FATE has an uncoincidental habit of conspiring against England in the lead up to major tournaments.
First the loss of Theo Walcott, then the draw against the Italians in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Now the potentially damaging absence of another forward packed with pace and punch who has taken the Premier League by storm this season.
It comes as no surprise that Roy Hodgson admitted recently to having sleepless nights with the stresses and strains of it all. It’s just what the Three Lions managerial post does to a man.
Jay Rodriguez has been a revelation in an England-heavy Southampton frontline this term while only Daniel Sturridge has bagged more than his 17 goals in all competitions among the national contingent.
Being unable to field one of the hottest properties in the English game at present in the global showpiece can only be detrimental to England’s chances of progressing to the latter stages and the core values of the tournament itself.
With the bullish enthusiasm to succeed at the highest level and outstanding application, the Lancashire-born superstar has been pivotal in driving the Saints into the top ten.
A 57-minute cameo against the Chileans may be his only senior England experience but with energy and vitality not to mention the ability to convert chances, Rodriguez would have been a perfect fit for the unbearable temperatures that awaits the Three Lions in Rio.
Instead of contributing to the Group D campaign, the former Stirling Albion loanee is consigned to settling for a watching brief. Sharing the pain of the penalty jinx with his off-field pals in a pub whilst feeling for those in the firing line several thousand miles away. The classic scenario.
When falling to his knees after 34 minutes of the 4-1 defeat at Manchester City, the signs gave the watching England boss reason to fear.
And that was proved when the details of a “routine operation” returned the worst possible verdict – anterior cruciate ligament, a six-month lay-off and more World Cup plans in tatters.
Another player almost certain to be on the provisional 30-man list, at the very least, now firmly crossed off.
A sobbing Rodriguez left the pitch on a stretcher with disappointment etched across his face and later departed the stadium in an ambulance.
He subconsciously knew the full extent of the damage, that his ambitions of representing his country in Brazil (the pinnacle of any footballer’s career nevertheless) were shattered in an instant.
Heading into the World Cup, teams need players full of confidence and bang in form. Unlike times gone by, England are no longer blessed with an array of talent to select from in the striking department.
The sustaining of a similar problem by Walcott in January’s FA Cup tie with Tottenham had already left Hodgson without one valuable asset.
Wayne Rooney (the latest subject of Joey Barton’s criticism) has struggled to produce his Manchester United form on the international stage. Team-mate Danny Welbeck has never been a prolific goalscorer, Peter Crouch is 34 and Jermain Defoe has upped sticks to America.
Although Sturridge has been devastating for Liverpool this term, his England career has not yet taken off. Who can Roy rely on to take Rodriguez’s place as a back-up?
Playing week in week out with the multi-talented Adam Lallana (and experienced Rickie Lambert, when he gets a look in) has brought the very best out of the flourishing 24-year-old, who was languishing below the likes of Martin Paterson in the Burnley pecking order just three seasons ago.
Even the opportunity of first-team football during a loan spell at Barnsley could not engineer a flurry of goals. Since then, the transformation has been gargantuan.
Within the space of two years, Rodriguez became Burnley’s top scorer, was named in the Championship team of the season and earned a £7 million move to the south coast.
Although six strikes in 35 appearances is a rather underwhelming return for a debut campaign, hitting a decisive winner against Chelsea and equaliser against Chelsea to retain the club’s top-flight status proved just as important as smashing the double figure mark.
Last month’s five goals in four games (including scoring in four successive league outings for the first time in his career) took his tally to an impressive 15 in the Premier League this season.
That statistic is enough to underline the remarkable improvement in his attributes, bringing much-deserved international recognition along the way.
Ironically, on the ground where he first graced the top-flight on his Saints debut in August 2012 would also be the one at which the dreams of turning out at the World Cup would be cruelly snatched away.
No-one was to blame for the awkward landing when fighting for a high ball with City skipper Vincent Kompany at the Etihad Stadium but, as the standing ovation from both sets of supporters implied, the consequences of the freak jarring of his right knee will now be severely felt by both his club and his country.
Such lengthy absences can curtail careers. Some players never rediscover their best form. The early prognosis suggests Rodriguez will be able to make a full recovery and get back to what he does best – scoring goals.
At the peak of his powers, there is still more to come from a young footballer destined to reach the top. But until October at the earliest, Rodriguez will be a frustrated armchair viewer.
Jay Rodriguez Image by SoccerGaming.com via Creative Commons License
Jay Rodriguez Burnley Image by Football365.com via Creative Commons License