In May 1964, Everton FC arrived in Australia as reigning English champions but it took forty six years for the club to return Downunder in 2010.
On that tour, a young England starlet, Jack Rodwell’s life changed forever when he met his life partner at a charity dinner in Sydney, attended by the Everton squad, including Tim Cahill.
It was no coincidence that the father of his wife, Alana, Rene Licata, was the former Marconi and Australian youth striker who delivered that famous cross for Frank Farina to level the scores at 1-1 in the opening match of the World Youth Championships in Mexico City, 1983 in front of 110,000 spectators at the Aztec Stadium against the home team Mexico.
Licata had worked in conjunction with Cahill to organise the charity event and if Alana hadn’t attended on the night, Jack Rodwell would never have called Australia his second home.
Notably, before he signed an extension to his Everton contract in 2010, Rodwell heard the whisper that Alex Ferguson was keen to sign him for Manchester United but rather than take the risk of missing out altogether, he signed on the dotted line at Goodison Park.
Rodwell was regarded as ”the Next Big Thing” early in his career but a spate of injuries and indifferent treatment by football managers have hampered his progress. When the opportunity presented itself to come to Australia in November 2021 to play for the Western Sydney Wanderers, Rodwell grabbed it with open arms.
At the moment, Rodwell is a free agent but is considering his options as he waits for the Wanderers to offer him a new contract for the 2022/23 A-League campaign.
In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Jack Rodwell talks about his life in English football, the highs and lows of his professional career and impressions of the A-League.
You were signed by Everton at a young age, but was Liverpool ever interested in you?
Strangely, my Dad was a Liverpool fan but I was signed by Everton as a seven year old.
Prior to this, my brother and I received free tickets from Everton and we went with my Dad to their home games.
I had gone to Liverpool when I was nearly seven years old but they said you’re a bit young so come back next season.
Ironically, Everton saw me play two weeks later and told me go to the Belfield training ground one night per week and I was asked to stay.
In May 1964, Everton arrived in Australia as the reigning England champions.
Are you familiar with former stars from that squad like Jimmy Gabriel, Ray Wilson, Roy Vernon, Alex Scott, Alex Young, Gordon West, Derek Temple and Brian Labone who were part of that touring squad.
I’m only familiar with Brian Labone, the great Everton and England central defender, who was a household name at the club.
What are your memories of Everton’s tour of Australia in July, 2010?
We landed in Sydney, went for a jog on Bondi Beach and put our feet in the water which was like an ice pack .
A few days later, we played Brisbane Roar, followed by Melbourne Heart and Sydney FC.
I was fortunate to play in all three games and scored in two of them which was a great boost for me to get into the first team.
In the previous season, I wasn’t playing regularly in the first team so this tour was an important preseason for me.
There were some pretty impressive players in that squad.
Your comments on some of them.
Louis Saha, the French striker was one of the best I’ve ever played with and he was crazy, fast and had two good feet.
Phil Jagielka, former England defender, was not big but strong and fast. He came to the club as a central midfielder but often older players are relegated to the backline.
Distin was massive, like a beast to opponents and was so strong in his gym workouts.
Phil Neville was an inspiring captain who looked after the younger players which I was always thankful for.
Ken Hibbert was a local product who was one of the best fullbacks going forward and a great tackler.
Tim Cahill was a great man to have in the dressing room as he always gave 100% and was the first man on the team sheet.
Manager, David Moyes was brilliant for me and after I came into the squad as a centre back, he converted me to a holding midfield role because he preferred old heads in the centre of defence.
Do you regret not waiting for the call from Sir Alex Ferguson before you signed that contract extension with Everton in 2010?
Somebody had said ,” Don’t sign a new contract with Everton because Fergie is after you”.
However, my parents advised me not to risk it as they thought he could always sign me from Everton.
Also, I wouldn’t have met my wife if I hadn’t toured with Everton in 2010.
What was the background to you signing for Manchester City in 2012 and tell us about your experiences.
I was in a preseason camp in 2012 with Everton and the club was contacted by City who wanted to sign me.
Roberto Mancini was the manager of City at the time.
It’s a great club but I sustained a series of hamstring injuries which prevented me from playing many matches .
However, I played in the 2013 FA Cup Final when we were beaten by Wigan.
Before the Cup Final, I had a meeting with Mancini and David Platt to discuss my future at the club after I had scored two goals in the last game of the League season.
Unfortunately, Mancini was sacked at the end of that season and Brian Kidd was appointed as caretaker manager before Manuel Pellegrini took over into the start of the new season.
I didn’t receive any favours from Pellegrini as he brought some South American players in and he also excluded Joe Hart, Jamie Milner, Mika Richards and Scott Sinclair.
I was forced to leave the club , even though we won the League and I received a winner’s medal.
Your next club was Sunderland.
Can you relate your experience there?
I was still only twenty three at the time and Gus Poyet was the manager who just wanted me to play games.
In the first two years, we were in the EPL .However, we were relegated to the Championship the next season and as the highest paid player, they did everything to get me off the wage bill.
I wanted to play in the EFL, not the Championship, but instead of showcasing me in the shop window by playing me, they attempted to move me out of the dressing room to find a club.
I wanted to play but they wouldn’t even allow me to train so I had another season on the same salary.
Manager, Chris Coleman was asked,” You’re losing games ,so where’s Jack”?
He then put me in the reserve team and we were relegated to League 1 in my fourth season.
I finally left the club in June, 2018 when my contract was terminated.
What led to your decision to come to play in the A- League with the Wanderers in November 2021, and what did you expect of it?
I hadn’t played for nine months before coming to Australia so I was very keen to give it a try after Carl Robinson approached me.
I wasn’t too familiar with the A-League, apart from what my father-in-law had told me.
I just wanted to play regularly again.
What was your relationship with Carl Robinson like, and was he treated unfairly by the club?
I knew about his playing record with Wolves so he had a good pedigree but when you start losing, the fans start to whinge and blame the manager.
It’s not that we didn’t have a good squad according to the local experts but as results became worse, the club decided to relieve Robinson from his position.
What were your thoughts on the strength of the Wanderers squad last season and should you have done better?
In Dimi Petratos, Steve Ugarkovic, Tomer Hemed, Adame Traore, Keanu Baccus, Bernie Ibini, Terry Antonis and Rhys Williams we had seasoned campaigners.
Williams injury early in the season was a great loss to the team but we still had enough depth in the squad to perform more consistently.
In several matches we were dominating in the first half but took our foot off the pedal in the second to let opponents back into the game.
Do you feel Mark Rudan needs more time to achieve his plans for the club and were you happy with his coaching philosophy and management?
He definitely needs more time after taking over the role well into the season.
Also, a lot of players are out of contract and he will want to build his own squad for next season like he did at Wellington and Western United.
He has a good grasp of the game from his extensive playing and coaching experience so hopefully next season will be fruitful for him.