Prior to this season, Jay Rodriguez was on the verge of morphing into some form of mythological creature given how little of the pitch he had seen, making just 12 appearances from 2014 to 2016.
Five goals and two assists in 2016/17 was enough to convince West Brom to sign him permanently from the Saints, and Rodriguez successfully put himself back on the radar of English football after a solid campaign at the Hawthorns.
Seven goals and three assists in the Premier League is a decent return for a player still struggling to recapture his best form. In fairness, though, it wasn’t the hardest task to stand out at West Brom considering the dross they displayed.
Nonetheless, the myth of Rodriguez was indeed established to be fake news and his performances have managed to grab the attention of both Burnley and Bournemouth.
Two clubs of completely contrasting styles, but which one suits Rodriguez best?
The emotional connection
Footballers often get told to think with their heads, not their hearts, but for Rodriguez and Burnley, both are applicable.
Not only have the Clarets qualified for next season’s Europa League, instantly fostering more appeal than a move to the South Coast, but Rodriguez is respected at Turf Moor. In fact, it goes further than respect. Rodriguez is loved, adored.
Everybody -no matter what your profession- wants appreciation. It’s not to say that Rodriguez won’t experience the same bond with the fans of Bournemouth, but he has that emotional connection with Burnley from his five years there between 2007 and 2012.
Jay Rodriguez, he’s one of our own. – Burnley fans vs Brighton, April 30th 2018.
In actual fact, the Claret fans love him so much that they went as far as booing Gaetan Bong after Rodriguez was cleared from allegations of racial abuse towards the Brighton defender.
Blasts from the past
Connections don’t simply stop with Burnley, but Rodriguez too will look back fondly at his time at Turf Moor because of a certain manager that got the best out of him: Eddie Howe.
The 28-year-old was arguably in his best form at Burnley between 2011 and 2012, scoring 14 goals in 2010/11 -winning Burnley’s Player of the Year- and 15 in 2011/12. This run coincides with Howe’s stint at the club, taking over in January 2011 and leaving in October 2012.
To put that into perspective, Rodriguez only achieved over double figures one further time in his career, in Mauricio Pochettino’s final season at Southampton – he scored 15 Premier League goals in 2013/14.
With Rodriguez still struggling for form and fitness since a knee injury in 2014 -keeping him out for 16 months-, he shouldn’t turn his nose up at an opportunity to reunite with the manager that extracted his best-ever form, albeit in the Championship.
The footballing spectrum
The footballing spectrum, like all spectrums in life, is fluid, and it’s not simply a case of being at one end or another. Every club is on the spectrum somewhere, but Burnley and Bournemouth do happen to be rather far apart stylistically.
Sean Dyche has built a Burnley side priding itself on organisation and defensive solidity, resulting in a seventh-placed finish despite having a negative goal difference.
Eddie Howe, contrastingly, won promotion to the Premier League playing exciting, attacking football underpinned by careful use of possession and high-pressing and has stuck somewhat rigidly to this style ever since.
In a sense, Burnley are passive and Bournemouth active. But where does Rodriguez sit on the spectrum?
Rodriguez’s place in the world
Rodriguez is a player built for active football. He’s had experience under Eddie Howe previously and his best season came under Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton, whose own style of football is certainly comparable to Howe’s.
Although Rodriguez isn’t the best passer, accurate only 73% of the time, ranking him 14th of all Bournemouth players to make over five Premier League appearances in 2017/18, he has the ability to beat the defender – he completed 28 take-ons last year- and fire a cross for the striker. That’s if he’s not deployed as a striker himself, however.
For example, he won 68 aerial duels last season, four more than Bournemouth’s Josh King, and he boasts a height advantage over the Cherries’ equivalent to a target man.
This pales in comparison to Burnley’s trio of Chris Wood (80), Ashley Barnes (80) and Sam Vokes (115), suggesting that there would be more opportunity for Rodriguez to play centrally at the Vitality Stadium.
His defensive attributes are well-documented, moreover, and he ranked second, fifth and eighth out of all Premier League forwards for clearances (40), interceptions (18) and tackles won (19), respectively, suiting him well for Bournemouth’s high-pressing.
For these reasons, therefore, alongside his relationship with Eddie Howe, Rodriguez is best served moving to Bournemouth. This is a decision that takes his head, heart and football into account.
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