NICK Colgan today urged the Tartan Army not to pin their World Cup hopes on goals kid Jordan Rhodes, insisting the youngster isn’t ready to shoulder the responsibility of steering Scotland to Rio.
The former Hibs goalkeeper watched as Rhodes emerged as a goalscoring sensation with Huddersfield Town, scoring an astonishing 87 goals in just 129 starts for the Terriers, a frightening strike-rate which earned him a £8 million move to Blackburn Rovers only a few weeks ago. Eight more in as many games for Scotland’s Under-21 side won Rhodes promotion to Craig Levein’s World Cup squad, the 22-year-old marking his first start for the full national side with yet another goal in last month’s friendly win against Australia at Easter Road.
A stuttering start in the Scots’ bid to claim a place in the finals in Brazil in two years’ time had the Hampden hordes chanting Rhodes’ name as both opening games at home to Serbia and Macedonia ended in disappointing draws.
In both instances, Levein threw Rhodes into action, giving him ten minutes against the Serbs and 24 more in a desperate but ultimately futile bid to claim a morale-boosting win over Macedonia.
Having watched Rhodes blossom at first hand, Colgan, pictured right, firmly believes the youngster, son of former Dunfermline goalkeeper Andy, who qualifies to play for Scotland having been educated in Fife, will, in time, fully realise his potential in a dark blue jersey.
But, he argued, that time is not quite now. Colgan, who at 38 remains on Huddersfield’s books, said: “Jordan is an excellent talent and his goalscoring record over the last year to 18 months speaks for itself, but he’d be the first to say that was done at League One level, not international level.
“I have no doubt Jordan will score goals for Scotland, but to place that burden on his shoulders at this time would be wrong and unfair. Jordan is very confident in his own ability but, while he has played some Under-21 football, he’s very new to full international level. He’s got four caps and just that one start against Australia.”
Former Republic of Ireland star Colgan fully understands the frustration felt by the Scottish fans who gave vent to their feelings in demanding Rhodes be given his chance over the past few days but, he insisted, they need to show a degree of patience. He said: “It’s a natural reaction, but how many of those supporters have actually seen Jordan play week in week out.
“I would suggest not too many of them will have done so. Fans have been calling for him to play and perhaps rightly so because of his goals record and I know for a fact he’ll be one of the future stars of Scottish football. But to hear people starting to talk of Jordan and Kenny Dalglish in the one breath is putting an unfair pressure on him. Just let the kid play.
“As I’ve said, international football is entirely different to club football and I think you need ten to 15 matches at that level to realise how different it is and Jordan has played just four and started only one. He needs to be given international experience but to me he’s not the type to affect a game coming on for ten or 15 minutes. I feel he needs to start games.”
Colgan believes the friendly matches against Luxembourg, Estonia and even next summer’s glamour clash with England at Wembley which pepper Scotland’s World Cup calendar will provide Levein with the opportunities to give Rhodes greater exposure in a dark blue jersey.
He said: “I’m sure Craig will be experimenting all round in those matches to give squad members who perhaps haven’t played too much a chance. A qualifying campaign is a long affair and you need your entire squad, so perhaps Jordan can use them to prove he is worth his place in the team.
“However, to be fair, Kenny Miller has done ever so well over numerous years. He has never let Scotland down and is probably in there as of rights.”
Nevertheless, Colgan has watched Rhodes rapidly mature as a player at club level and believes he will adapt quickly to the demands of international football, although he believes the youngster would prefer playing as part of a two-man strike-force rather than operating up front alone. He said: “Over the last few years, Jordan has really developed both physically and mentally. His all-round game has improved immensely and now he is learning about international football, how Craig wants his team to play, how he wants his strikers to play. Craig seems to favour the lone striker and although Jordan has brought that into his game I think if you were to ask him he’d rather play in a two.
“It’s only natural there’s a little bit of panic and frustration among the fans at the moment, as they’d have been hoping for two home wins by this point. But Jordan needs to bide his time and I am sure as he integrates himself into the squad both socially and professionally, he will become a big part of things to come.”
Although Rhodes has moved to Ewood Park, Colgan remains in close touch with the youngster, revealing they’d spoken on the phone between the Serbia and Macedonia matches. He said: “Having spoken to Jordan over the last few days, I know that while he’s been happy to be involved, he had been hoping to get a start and knowing him he’ll have been a bit frustrated himself.
“But, as I have said, he needs to bide his time. He’s had loads to take on board recently, he’s gone through a time of uncertainty pre-season and into the new season as to whether he’d still be at Huddersfield or perhaps get a move to the Premier League or another Championship club.
“It all happened in the very last week of the transfer window as these things inevitably do and I’m sure not just Huddersfield but Blackburn would like to have had it done sooner.”
Colgan believes Rhodes won’t find himself weighed down by the price Blackburn eventually paid for him saying: “I told Jordan he should remember he never asked to be sold for £8 million. That’s the sum the clubs decided upon and had nothing to do with him and what he should concentrate on is doing what he did at Huddersfield as I am sure he will.
“I know Jordan pretty well and he’s a smashing lad. We used to play a bit of snooker at the training ground and he was getting pretty good at that. It seems everything he touches turns to gold. People say nice guys go nowhere, but Jordan is proof that’s totally wrong. He’s one of the nicest kids I have ever met and I’m absolutely delighted he’s got a move which will probably set him and his family up for life.”
While totally understanding the dark mood north of the border at the moment, Colgan revealed he believes the clouds will lift before our World Cup campaign is over, tipping Levein’s squad to overcome the odds and sneak second spot in Group A.
That may seem a tall order today, but Colgan insisted: “I think Scotland have a better squad than they have had for perhaps the last five or six years, with more players in the Premier League. I know fans don’t want to hear it, but it takes a little patience. Of course you want to win the first two at home, but Serbia showed by thumping Wales what a good team they are, while Ireland know full well from their Euro 2012 campaign that Macedonia are no mugs.
“Ideally you want to win your home games. Not doing so brings a bit of pressure, but I honestly think Scotland could nick that second place.”