Say what you like about Southampton’s managerial handlings - but Mauricio Pochettino’s instalment at St Mary’s has surely helped to push Jay Rodriguez into international contention.
With Nigel Adkins governing the Saints, the 23-year-old appeared suffocated and starved of the opportunity to substantiate his £7m. price tag. After his arrival from Turf Moor, the striker’s inclusion in the starting XI was stuttering - only playing some part in 11 of 22 fixtures during Adkins’s tenure - but even when selected, his involvement was restrictive and specific.
Consigned to the wide areas, operating in a supportive shift for either Danny Fox or Luke Shaw, the impact of Rodriguez was limited as Adkins flitted between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 system. It was clear his technical ability was being sacrificed for a more cardiovascular role, which, more pertinently for the former Claret, might have been the indicator that Adkins wasn’t the right man to nurture the club’s progressive talents.
But the Argentinean has seemingly breathed new life in to the striker - who is a product of the Turf Moor youth system - and the key facets of his game are finally being utilised to their full capacity.
Though Espanyol were rooted to the bottom of La Liga when he parted company with the club earlier in the season, Pochettino is held with high regard in Spain and was heavily involved in the development of young players at the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat.
Working in a tough financial climate, forced to sell players like Pablo Osvaldo and Jose Callejon, Pochettino was reliant on the club’s burgeoning prospects as neighbours Barcelona would naturally entice the local Catalonian talent to Camp Nou.
And to an extent he’s followed suit on the South Coast in a bid to make a lasting impression on Nicola Cortese as youngsters Maya Yoshida, Nathaniel Clyne, Gaston Ramirez and Shaw are all being implemented in the new regime alongside Rodriguez.
Pochettino has used Rodriguez in all 11 of his games and has started him in eight of the last 10. He’s allowing him to play with more freedom and expression, tailoring a role that enables him to rotate with the likes of Rickie Lambert across the front line.
Rodriguez’s versatility is now shining through, demonstrating his ability to drop deep and link play, run at defenders, visualise attacking scenarios which inevitably benefits his movement and reading of the game. He conveys an aptitude of composure, awareness, invention and physicality with the added benefit of harbouring a natural goal scoring touch.
The company in which he has scored in this term also speaks volumes. Rodriguez has scored twice in league and cup against Chelsea while finding the net against Spurs, Manchester United and Liverpool and he’s close to registering double figures in his maiden Premier League campaign.
Pochettino said: “Rodriguez has been really confident since I arrived. I am really happy with him and all my players because they showed a great capacity to adapt to this new brand of football I want to play. He is great technically and mentally. I don’t see a roof to what he can achieve.”
In terms of cultivation at international level, there’s not a myriad of competition from an attacking sense. United’s Wayne Rooney will seemingly take precedence in coach Roy Hodgson’s selection after scoring six times in his last five international outings. Danny Welbeck has netted three times in his last five appearances for his country but beyond that Jermain Defoe, Daniel Sturridge and Andy Carroll have still to prove their international pedigree.
Rodriguez was called up to Stuart Pearce’s Under-21 squad to face Italy in February 2011, but with summer exhibition matches against the Republic of Ireland and Brazil on the horizon, is now not the time to cap the one-time Claret?
He may just provide the alternative dimension the England set up needs.