No rush for Rodwell move
Sir Alex Ferguson's touchline ban does not kick in until after Everton's visit to Manchester United on Saturday - so he can keep an eye on a potential Old Trafford prize at close quarters.
Everton's line-up is likely to contain Jack Rodwell, the elegant rising star who is fast-becoming the most wanted teenage talent in English football.
Rodwell's name was noted long ago by Ferguson and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is also a huge admirer. Now the tall 18-year-old, who signed a new five-year contract at Everton in February, has attracted attention from potential new suitors in Chelsea and Manchester City because of his rapid development under David Moyes.
But after Rodwell exchanged shirts with Rio Ferdinand following Everton's FA Cup semi-final win against United last season, speculation is mounting that he is being lined up to claim the shirt on a permanent basis at Old Trafford in the future as the England defender's eventual successor.
So how long will it be before Everton's resolve to keep one of the game's bright young stars is tested again, as it was when Wayne Rooney left for United after Euro 2004? And would it be in the best interests of Rodwell to leave with his career only in its infancy?
Everton would want at least £20m to part with the talented Rodwell
Everton tell me there have been no expressions of serious interest in Rodwell. This situation may change - and quickly.
Chelsea will be active in January after their transfer ban was lifted and any move from Stamford Bridge is sure to spark a reaction from Manchester United, where it is understood that Ferguson, that prime judge of pedigree football flesh, rates Rodwell as a sure-fire star of the future.
Everton have been in this position before, but there are factors at work which mean Rodwell may not automatically take the exit route out of Goodison Park at the first sign of interest.
It should be stressed at the outset that Rodwell is hardly slumming it at a club that has finished fifth in the Premier League in successive seasons, so the opportunites for serious - and instant - improvement are limited.
All the indications, and the word from inside Goodison Park, is that this is a youngster mature beyond his years.
Rodwell was brought up in the Birkdale area of Merseyside, home of the famous Royal Birkdale golf course. He is closely advised by his father Malcolm, and was scouted by Everton from the age of six.
And Everton is in the family's blood. Dad Malcolm admitted to a Merseyside journalist in Lisbon recently that the hairs still rise on the back of his neck when his boy runs out to the familiar "Z Cars" theme at Goodison Park.
Of course Everton fans (and plenty of others) remember the bitter ending to a romantic story that started with Rooney's "Once A Blue Always A Blue" T-shirt in the FA Youth Cup final against Aston Villa - but hopes are high inside Goodison Park that this tale will have a happier conclusion.
Rodwell is a more measured and low-key character than the impulsive, explosive Rooney was at the same age, and he retains an excellent relationship with Moyes. Rooney, unlike Rodwell, was bitterly at odds with his manager when the parting came.
And unlike Rooney, who could have strolled into most teams in Europe at 18, Rodwell is still a work in progress and unsure of what will eventually be his best position. Indeed, it is unlikely Rodwell would have figured in Everton's team as often this season had all their players been available.
Despite the hype, Rodwell is currently not good enough to command regular football at Manchester United and Chelsea. This is not a condemnation of his quality, simply a recognition that he is taking the first steps on a long journey and perspective is required before the hype gets out of hand.
Rodwell's standing was put into brutal context when England coach Fabio Capello reacted with barely-concealed shock when it was suggested he might make his World Cup squad.
He has played in central midfield this season after originally emerging as a central defender in the Ferdinand mould - which may provide a clue to Ferguson's reported interest.
But Everton boss Moyes has been coming around to the idea that midfield may be his eventual territory after two thunderous long-range finishes against AEK Athens in the Europa League coupled with a naturally athletic, graceful style.
He has also looked anonymous at times this term, the inevitable consequence of Everton's inability to rest Rodwell as they wrestle with a lengthy injury list and his own attempt to adapt to life as a Premier League regular.
Rodwell is rangy, but his passing still requires a cutting edge in the midfield role and his tall and slender frame may not be equipped to fight the physical battles against the best the Premier League has to offer.
These are not criticisms - they are understandable facts about a young man still growing in a physical and footballing sense. At least at Everton he will be afforded the chance to grow with a reasonable expectation of first-team football.
If Rodwell went to Manchester United he could spend as much time on the bench as Sir Alex, at least in his early days, and the image of an unemployed Shaun Wright-Phillips should figure largely in his thoughts if Chelsea pursue an interest.
Former Everton striker Graeme Sharp has observed Rodwell closely and he told me: "First and foremost we are dealing with a young lad here. He has still got lots to learn and there have been times this season when I'm sure David Moyes would have pulled him out of the team if he had the players available to do so.
"People shouldn't forget that. He should not have too much pressure or expectation put on him. He has done well and has got bags of promise and his reputation is growing, but he is just 18 and it is unfair for people to expect too much because he is at a very early stage in his career.
"You hear comparisons with Wayne Rooney when he first came on the scene at Everton but you can't do that. This is totally different.
"When people first saw Wayne they had their breath taken away. As a kid he was explosive, off-the-cuff, made things happen in the final third. Jack can get the ball and keep it, but he's not someone who's going to get you 25 goals a season from midfield. And this is all understandable because he's just a boy in football terms. You have to take this into consideration.
"I think he will eventually play in midfield because I look at his physique, and I see the Ferdinand comparison with his style of play, but it would be a tough task for him against somebody like Didier Drogba. If I was looking to compare him to anyone at this stage, I would compare him to Michael Carrick.
"Don't get me wrong, Everton have got a very fine young player on their hands, but you have to keep going back to the fact that it is early days.
"If you were being over-criticial, which you can't because he is only a kid, you could say he might score more goals. He has also been playing in an Everton team that has struggled with form and injuries this season, so that situation hasn't helped him, but he is certainly a very promising young player."
The opening of the January window could provide the ultimate test for Everton and Rodwell, but Sharp believes he will not be fazed by the mounting speculation.
He said: "He is a very nice, sensible and level-headed lad. He is well brought up with a good family background. I do not see any of this affecting him. It is inevitable that when a good young talent like Jack emerges there will be speculation. It has always been there, but I think Jack has the sort of good character to deal with it."
Former Everton goalkeeper Nigel Martyn, who was at Goodison Park when Rooney left for Old Trafford amid bitterness and acrimony, also subscribes to the theory that Rodwell would be better staying at the club that has nurtured his career.
He says: "While it goes without saying that Jack leaving Goodison would be a disastrous move for the Blues, I also think it would be a terrible switch in terms of the lad's development. Jack is flourishing at Everton.
"He could go to Manchester United or Chelsea and that development would be immediately hindered. I'm sure at the start of this season David Moyes earmarked Jack for a certain number of games, but instead circumstances have dictated that he has played in almost every game."
An added attraction for potential suitors such as United and Chelsea is the perception that Rodwell is "gettable." Turn up at the Emirates with an offer for Jack Wilshere or Aaron Ramsey, or at Old Trafford with an offer for Fabio da Silva or Federico Macheda, and you would be ordered off the premises.
Everton's financial situation makes them more vulnerable to an offer - but they are not an easy touch as they proved by prising £24m out of Manchester City for Joleon Lescott.
And it would send an ominous, potentially fatal, signal to their demanding support base if they swiftly fell prey again to any possible pursuers of Rodwell. These will all be considerations for chairman Bill Kenwright should an offer, as it inevitably will, be made at some point in the future.
For now, however, every ounce of common sense and logic suggests Everton should not sell. And Rodwell should not consider exchanging shirts just yet.
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