Reflection: Jordan Rhodes’s Boro career could, and should, have prospered

When Boro pulled off a late deadline day U-turn to sign Blackburn striker Jordan Rhodes in 2016 it was greeted with excitement amongst supporters.

They were eager to see their new reported £9million talisman enhance his goalscoring reputation on Teesside and fire Aitor Karanka’s team to promotion.

Unfortunately, Rhodes met a far too familiar fate as far as a Middlesbrough striker is concerned, and although he did help Boro to that elusive prize of a Premier League place, his career at the Riverside didn’t hit the heights it was expected to.

Of course, when a player arrives at a club for a fee close to double figures your expectations reflect why that value is on the label in the first place.

For Rhodes, his price tag wasn’t above and beyond what he was worth. He’d earned a reputation for being a goalscorer, and wherever he went the goals tended to follow.

It was clear though, at least to me, that then-Boro manager Aitor Karanka wasn’t particularly keen and wanted Fulham striker Ross McCormack instead.

There may be no ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ proof of this, but perhaps the closest to proof we’ll get is the Spaniard’s reluctance to start him, often opting for the more energetic David Nugent.

On his debut – ironically a substitute appearance – he was introduced to the Riverside faithful as ‘Jason Rhodes’. Quite fitting in hindsight, as it seemed as though we’d somehow acquired a Pro Evo regen.

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The 4-2-3-1 formation, a staple of the Karanka era, just didn’t suit Rhodes’s style of play. 

At Blackburn he thrived playing alongside current Boro striker Rudy Gestede. At Boro, he was left to chase shadows and, for the most part, looked lost in a system that highlighted his weaknesses more than his strengths. 

He was a fox in the box, a good old fashioned centre forward. Strikers in the modern game are expected to do everything and everything and you could see that wasn’t Rhodes’s forte.

Look at his highlights at Blackburn – he came alive in the box – not around it.

It’s particularly frustrating to look back on considering Boro also had Cristhian Stuani, a potent threat inside the box. Imagine a front two of Stuani and Rhodes with the classy (at least he was at one point) Gaston Ramirez operating behind?

Hell, what about if Nugent and Rhodes had partnered each other up front? 

One thing is for certain: Rhodes is not the type of player to operate as a lone striker.

To his credit, he did deliver when needed. Goals against MK Dons, QPR, Bolton, Burnley and Birmingham were crucial. Take Rhodes’s contributions away and that’s just a solitary point from a selection of games that yielded nine.

Unforgettably, he was the hero as Boro came from a goal down to snatch a crucial victory at the Macron Stadium. 

Tumbling over seats, ending up several rows down from where you started, hugging and kissing random strangers also occupying that glorious away end. Yeah, Jordan Rhodes did that.

With promotion secured and many a pint downed at the Dickens, it was time to plan for next season, and it never really seemed as though that plan included Jordan Rhodes.

The mid-summer signing of Premier League winner Alvaro Negredo knocked Rhodes down the pecking order and he made just 6 appearances (two starts) before behind loaned out to Sheffield Wednesday.

You can’t say he didn’t make an impact, and you could even argue that he deserved more respect for providing key goals in a system that wasn’t withiin his comfort zone.

But there will always be a question of ‘what if’ with Jordan Rhodes and Middlesbrough. There will always be a sticky sadness that he couldn’t have left with a bigger reputation.

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