If Jack Rodwell can answer questions about his hunger he can go from 'villain' to Sheffield United hero - but it is an if

Manager Chris Wilder (left) welcomes new Sheffield United signing Jack Rodwell
Manager Chris Wilder (left) welcomes new Sheffield United signing Jack Rodwell
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To speak to Jack Rodwell, you word be hard-pushed to see him as the “villain” he became in the eyes of Sunderland supporters.

READ MORE - Sheffield United complete signing of Jack Rodwell for the rest of the season

On the face of it, a player whose Stadium of Light departure was celebrated due to a perceived lack of hunger would seem a strange fit at Sheffield United.

Hours earlier, manager Chris Wilder had bemoaned his players' lack of desire in what on the scoresheet looked a respectable 2-0 defeat at Anfield.

But Wilder is not averse to taking chances on players. Last summer he signed Ravel Morrison, the enfant terrible of English football who despite having more talent in his little toe than most players have in their entire body, most Premier League managers would not touch with a bargepole. Even Wilder, despite his warm words about Morrison on Friday, has only given him 12 league minutes this season. A move to Dutch club Den Haag has been strongly mooted.

In some ways, though, Rodwell is an archetypal Wilder player. Like Morrison, he joins – on a contract until the end of the season – with a big point to prove. The 28-year-old has to show the hunger to make the most of his God-given talent. It is far from a certainty.

When I was covering Sunderland's slide down the English leagues, Rodwell became a byword for everything wrong with a rotten football club. His cameo appearance in a behind-the-scenes documentary firmed up most supporters' view of him as someone indifferent about playing for the club they were so passionate about.

He was not seen as someone prepared to grit his teeth when his body was less then 100 per cent fit. And having struggled with hamstring problems from early in his career, it rarely was.

Chris Coleman, manager for the second half of that season, did his best to drum Rodwell out, though it was only after the Welshman's sacking that he was handed a large cheque and told to make a long walk.

Next came a stint at Blackburn Rovers, but when Tony Mowbray offered him a new deal in the summer, Rodwell turned it down. Trials in Italy came to nothing. Once more he became a non-playing footballer.

Since Rodwell left Manchester City in 2012, he has given the impression he is not too unhappy with that. Dogged by injuries, he has only made 126 appearances.

Yet Coleman's predecessor, Simon Grayson, speaks highly of Rodwell and clearly the demanding Wilder has been impressed after watching him at close quarters at Sheffield United's Shirecliffe complex.

"Unfortunately, at Sunderland, he was the scapegoat through no fault of his own,” argues Grayson.

When the Black Cats were relegated from the Premier League in 2017, Rodwell was the only player who kept his Premier League wages. So desperate had the Wearsiders been to sign him from Manchester City in 2014, they waived the standard contract clause cutting wages on relegation. Rodwell was not to blame for agreeing to that, they were for offering. But when he made just two appearances in their Championship relegation campaign – including, significantly, a goalscoring one at home to Sheffield United – it did not sit well.

Nor did his appearance for their under-21s in a Football League Trophy at Grimsby Town watched by just 248 fans, three in the away end, and a handful of us journalists. The game went to a penalty shoot-out and Rodwell let eight of his team-mates take spot kicks before stepping up. It could have been an experienced player letting youngsters have their chance, but it fed into the narrative of someone dodging responsibility. He never played again for the Black Cats.

Get the fire burning, and there is a talented player to be had.

Wilder has given Blades fans few reasons to distrust his judgement over the years, so they will have to hope he is right when he says of Rodwell: "He's certainly got the desire and, from a physical and attitude point of view, there are no issues."

On a short contract, it is probably a risk worth taking.

That Rodwell is even still trying to impress football clubs when he presumably has enough money in the bank that he does not need to is a good sign.

As a youngster at Everton, he was tipped as a future England centre-back by David Moyes, even though he spent much of his early career in central midfield. He impressed enough to earn a big-money move to Manchester City.

England manager Fabio Capello called Rodwell's debut performance “the most important thing” to come out of England's 2011 friendly with Spain (along with those of Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck – it was clearly a night for false dawns), and for someone who has only won three caps, Spain, Sweden and Brazil are not bad opponents to have faced.

Towards the end of his time at Sunderland Rodwell came to the conclusion his future lay as a central defender – he was playing on the right of a back three that night in Cleethorpes – and that is where Wilder needs cover.

Playing as one of the overlapping centre-backs who bookend John Egan is a difficult job, and one only Chris Basham and Jack O'Connell have been entrusted with in this season's Premier League. The Blades are fortunate neither has picked up an injury or a suspension but their luck could run out at any point.

Like Basham, Rodwell's grounding as a midfielder will prepare him well for the attacking demands of the supposedly defensive job.

There is still a Premier League-quality football in Rodwell, the questions are all about whether he has the hunger to make the most of it. The next few months could tell us an awful lot.