Cult heroes: Jordan Rhodes knew what City needed and fans loved him for it
The latest in our Norwich City cult heroes series sees Mark Armstrong look at the impact Jordan Rhodes had during his season-long loan at Carrow Road
‘Jordan Rhodes is one of us, he hates Ipswich’.
If that chant wasn’t reason enough to be a Norwich City cult hero, then I don’t know what is. Rhodes has always been seen as ‘one that got away’ by Ipswich fans with then boss Roy Keane cashing in on the youngster by selling him to Huddersfield in 2009.
Ipswich missed out on a lot of goals and a lot of money as a result. He is the perfect example of the mis-management that has taken place at Portman Road under Marcus Evans and when he became a Norwich player, on loan from Sheffield Wednesday, it gave supporters another nice little opportunity to poke fun at their rivals down the A140.
The truth is Rhodes was a fairly peripheral player in the Canaries’ march to promotion, at least on the pitch. He did of course score important goals, most notably both in a 2-1 win over Aston Villa and in the spine-tingling 4-3 rescue mission against Millwall at Carrow Road.
But it was away from the pitch that Rhodes ensured he developed a cult status amongst City supporters.
This came down to the impression you get from Rhodes that, essentially, he is a down-to-earth, nice bloke.
Not many footballers respond to a five-year-old’s party invitation as he did last year when young City fan Oliver Howlett, from Lincolnshire, offered a piece of birthday cake and a bit of pass the parcel. Rhodes did.
He wrote: “Dear Oliver, thank you for writing to me and inviting me to your birthday party. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it, I had training in the morning but if I didn’t and was a little bit closer that would have been very nice.”
But perhaps more importantly Rhodes was accepting of his role during his season on loan from Sheffield Wednesday. When he was originally signed, with City taking on a decent proportion of his wages at Hillsborough, there was no doubt he and the City coaching staff saw him as being the club’s number one striker.
Teemu Pukki of course had other ideas and the Finn himself probably didn’t expect to fire 29 goals and play a huge role in restoring Norwich to the top table of English football.
Rhodes was wise and mature enough to see that in the system Daniel Farke likes to play, with just one striker, he couldn’t complain at his restricted game time. In fact, he thrived on it.
Rather than sulk, he was the ultimate professional, ready and waiting in the wings for his opportunity. You could argue that, of course, he should react in this way given that Norwich were paying his wages but footballers can sometimes be selfish beings, particularly ones on loan.
Rhodes certainly doesn’t fall into that category and Farke appreciated the former Middlesbrough man’s attitude.
After Rhodes’ brace against Villa, the German said: “I am pretty happy for him because no-one deserves to be the hero more than him. Of course the team is the hero but he deserves the headlines and he will handle it.
“I am happy for Jordan. From the first day he walked in I appreciated being able to work with him. It is a real pleasure for me. Even in the times when he had to wait a bit on the bench he was always there with so much support and so much commitment towards what we are doing.”
Rhodes understood what Norwich needed from him pretty quickly. They didn’t need a frontline goalscorer, they had that in Pukki. They needed someone who could come off the bench and make a difference whilst not proving themselves a nuisance over a lack of game time.
Rhodes more than fulfilled that brief, and it’s why many fans would have dearly loved for the 30-year-old to have been part of Farke’s Premier League squad.
It wasn’t to be last summer with Sheffield Wednesday and Norwich unable to come to a deal.
But maybe it was best to leave City fans wanting more. His City legacy is one of a player who was just happy to be involved in one of the most unexpectedly glorious campaigns the club has ever had.
Oh, and he hates Ipswich...