The Jack Rodwell story: From Jack the lad to Everton star of the future
WHEN the latest product of Everton's fruitful youth academy made his record-breaking debut in December 2007, supporters could have been forgiven for feeling cautious.
Francis Jeffers, Michael Ball, Tony Grant, Michael Branch, Jon O'Connor, Jamie Milligan and Danny Cadamarteri had all broken into the Goodison Park outfit's first team during the 1990s, having graduated through the club's ranks.
Yet despite all showing glowing potential after nailing down a place in the squad, none of them forged a lengthy career in L4.
While Jeffers' star as a Premiership striker faded almost as quickly as it had risen, the likes of Grant, Cadamarteri, Milligan and Branch all went on to carve out a career in English football's lower leagues.
Michael Ball undoubtedly had the greatest success, going on to play for Glasgow Rangers, PSV Eindhoven and now Manchester City.
Of course, had he opted to say, Wayne Rooney would still have been kissing the badge of St Rupert's Tower rather than that of a fork-wielding Red Devil.
But that's for another time.
When the Everton faithful get wind of a promising prospect these days, it's usually with good reason.
Since taking over as manager in March 2002, it has been strongly evident that David Moyes is a man who opines that youth is every bit as important to a club's progress as experience.
And Moyes has shown that if you nurture that talent, the rewards can be immense.
Having been born in Southport in 1991, Jack Rodwell's formative years were spent at Farnborough Road Junior School and Birkdale United, before moving on to Birkdale High School.
From an early age, Jack showed a deep love for football, preferring to follow players regardless of who they played for.
Birkdale United manager Ste Cattlin remembers Jack as a player who stood out.
He said: "Jack was a very level headed boy, very good on the ball and was very aware of what was going on around him.
"He was very confident and was quite tall for his age. In fact, he was quite stocky as a young lad.
"When he was really young he was released by Liverpool. They wanted him back but Jack's parents said 'no' as they'd already had their chance.
"At Birkdale, Jack always played at centre-half because he read the game so well.
"Even then he had such a good knowledge of the game and was very keen to listen."
Clearly, Rodwell's leadership qualities came naturally at a young age and it's something that Ste sees him carrying on throughout his career.
He continued: "It's a horrible thing to say but if he can stay free from injuries then he can go all the way.
"Without a doubt he can be a future captain at Everton because he talks such a good game.
"It's looking more likely that Jack will be a midfielder but they will adapt him at Everton where he might move further back as his career progresses.
"When you look at Rio Ferdinand, he started his career up front but gradually moved further back and I can see Jack doing the same."
It can sometimes be damaging for young players to be overawed when they come up against older, more physical players. When they've been battered from pillar to post, the confidence can easily ebb away.
But Cattlin always remembers one occasion when Jack proved beyond doubt that he could compete with just about anything that was thrown at him.
He continued: "We had some fabulous trips abroad to places like Barcelona.
"But I always remember one tournament we played in when we went over to Belgium. Jack was playing against lads who were five years older than him but he didn't look out of place at all. In fact, he was that impressive he won the man of the match award."
Another mentor who played his part in Rodwell's development is similarly unsurprised to see the 18-year-old now firmly entrenched in Moyes' plans.
Farnborough Junior School teacher Nick Hanlon, has been delighted to see him flourish into a player of Premier League quality.
He said: "Jack played for the school in what was our most successful ever season.
"We won 14 trophies in 2001/02, including the England School FA tournament at Lilleshall and the Railtrack national six-a-side championship where the school represented Everton from the Premier League and won at the Millennium Stadium.
"He actually played in front of 25,000 fans that day because there was the senior LDV Vans Trophy final being played there later in the afternoon.
"He was absolutely outstanding and loved playing for us because we let him go up front, whereas he was a centre-back for Everton.
"I've been at the school for 20 years and a couple of lads have gone on to play with clubs but Jack was something else.
"He was calm, reliable, and could handle being under pressure. He obviously knew he was good at football but never boasted about it. Instead he just got on with it on the pitch.
"He comes from a lovely family who are very supportive. We still speak a lot now and he jokes and says he should call me Sir.
"He's definitely a hero to my son Jamie. I'm delighted Jack is doing well now.
"I always give him as an example to other kids and he's only just 18."
Having been head and shoulders above the rest when representing his school sides and Birkdale United, Rodwell, even at the age of six, showed signs that he had a good chance of a future career in football.
He may not have been aware of it, but a host of Premiership clubs had been monitoring Jack's situation - Manchester United and Manchester City were rumoured to be those keen to recruit the youngster.
But it was Everton who took the plunge to bring the young Rodwell to their Academy, then based in Netherton.
Renowned for having an excellent scouting system, there was a buzz amongst those Everton scouts who had seen Rodwell, singling him out as a boy with great potential.
Everton Academy director Ray Hall has monitored the Birkdale boy's progress since his arrival some 12 years ago.
Ray recalls the initial excitement that Rodwell caused when he was first brought to the club.
Speaking at Everton's Finch Farm training complex, he said: "One of our local scouts brought Jack in while he was playing for either Farnborough Road Junior School or Birkdale United when he was about six or seven-years-old.
"The boys come in and we work with them before offering them a registration when they're nine-years-old.
"If you look at the length of time Jack had been here, 10 years had gone by before he made his debut.
"The local scouts were quite excited when they brought him in because athletically, he was miles ahead of everyone and was a bit taller than the other lads his age.
"By the time Jack was 13 we started to realise that if he kept developing, he could be at Everton Football Club for a very long time."
IN TOMORROW'S DAILY POST: England expects - and Jack Rodwell delivers