It was hard not to be saddened when the replays were played of Jay Rodriguez’s knee buckling as he landed while playing against Manchester City.
It was no challenge for viewers to lip-read the “please, please, please” that the Southampton striker uttered as he went down clutching his knee. The look on his face told everybody what they needed to know, and what Roy Hodgson, his team-mates, and Rodriguez himself feared the most; his World Cup hopes had just evaporated.
But as one door closes, another one opens. As callous as it may sound, a difficult decision has been made for Hodgson which could prove a sensible one. The dichotomy of whether to go ‘big or small’ has been solved by an act of divine intervention. Now all that remains to be answered is one question; Lambert or Carroll?
In a season where a host of star performances have come from Englishmen, the progression Jay Rodriguez had made was arguably the most impressive. Rodriguez had become one of the star men in a fresh and exciting Southampton side.
Since Mauricio Pochettino took charge of the Saints in January 2013, Rodriguez has flourished under his guidance. Towards the end of last season, Rodriguez established himself in Pochettino’s starting XI ahead of Jason Puncheon. Since the turn of the year Rodriguez had netted five times and assisted seven in 18 games as the Saints crawled away from the relegation zone.
In an impressive campaign so far in 2014 Rodriguez had bagged 15 Premier League goals, including five in his previous four, prior to rupturing an anterior cruciate ligament. Hodgson has insisted that only those players who were performing for their clubs could be considered. And there were few enjoying the form that Rodriguez was.
Rodriguez was undoubtedly going to improve on the solitary cap he had received this season, in November against Chile. His place in the provisional 30 was all but secured. Whether a final World Cup call-up would be have been to the detriment of his Saints team-mate Rickie Lambert and/or West Ham’s Andy Carroll remained to be seen. But now Rodriguez is out of the fray, Hodgson has a template drawn out for him.
The decision of whether to punt for Carroll or Lambert ahead of Rodriguez may not be the most exciting of options for England fans. But when it comes to what each player offers, the benefits of Carroll or Lambert outweigh what Rodriguez would have brought to the squad.
Rodriguez is a worker and can link-up with players around him. He has the ability to run in behind the defence and has markedly improved on his finishing this season. But the fact is, Hodgson has Danny Welbeck to play the Rodriguez role. Both players can probe down the left-wing or play centrally and both players look to get beyond the back-four. To consider Rodriguez along with Welbeck would effectively have been a waste of a selection and wouldn’t have been prudent on the part of the England coaching staff.
Purely due to their physicality, both Lambert and Carroll offer something different. Andy Carroll performed well in his first international tournament at Euro 2012, netting against Sweden while also causing problems for Italy’s midfield when the ball was sent high. Since his proper return from injury, Carroll has contributed two goals and four assists. In his two previous matches (vs Sunderland and Liverpool) Carroll has succeeded in seven of nine and 10 of 17 aerial duels respectively.
Unsurprisingly, both goals this season have been scored by his head. He still has work to improve his effectiveness with the ball at his feet, but if Hodgson wanted the option of a target man he should look no further than Carroll. International defenders will have faced few players as physically demanding as Carroll, and the extremities of his play are unlike that of many others who will be present in Brazil.
Lambert, as well as being a more dominant physical presence than Jay Rodriguez, is also deceptively good with the ball at his feet. He is used to collecting the ball deep and involving himself in build-up play. A tally of 11 goals and 10 assists in the league this season shows that Lambert can both provide and finish chances. His assist for Adam Lallana’s goal against Tottenham was a perfect example of his ability on the ball, thinking fast and manoeuvring the ball nicely to put the ball on a plate for his England team-mate. And if Hodgson wants to help break England’s penalty curse Lambert may be a safe bet, having netted all 34 attempts as a Southampton player.
Who Hodgson chooses to pick when the time arrives is still a mystery. But we now know Jay Rodriguez won’t have his name in the hat. As disappointing as it is that the opportunity has passed him by, Hodgson would have been wiser to opt for a different style of player regardless of Rodriguez’s fitness.