The game was heading for extra time, neither side able to break the deadlock, but on 87 minutes Burnley’s 19 year old striker collected a through ball that found him facing Fulham’s Swiss goalkeeper Pascal Zuberbuhler.
Showing maturity far beyond his years, he went round the Swiss World Cup stopper with a feint that made it look like he’d been doing it all his life. Burnley were through to the next round having dumped out Premiership opposition, but there was only one name on everybody’s lips at Turf Moore that night: Jay Rodriguez.
Jay Enrique Rodriguez to call him by his full name, and yes I know what you’re thinking, how does a first name like Jay finish with a second one like Rodriguez? Born in Burnley it’s his Dad, originating from La Coruna in Spain, that provides the exotic surname which also makes him eligible to play for either country.
Asked about which country he’d prefer to play for his answer is an expected one given that he’s got two great football nations to choose from: “I wouldn’t mind which one I played for if I was ever picked, but if it came down to a decision between the two I think I would pick England seeing as I was born here.”
Rodriguez was just the only second year apprentice kept on by Burnley at the end of the 06/07 season, a time Rodriguez admits was his worst moment so far: “It was nerve racking, not knowing if I were going to be kept on or not, I was also worrying for the other lads as well.” Rodriguez went on to sign a two year deal which he celebrated by bagging a goal on his senior debut against Wrexham in a pre season friendly.
However, he had to wait till December to get his first taste of first team action in a defeat at home to Bristol City. When the January transfer window came around he agreed on a move to Stirling on loan in the Scottish second division, a move that benefited him greatly.
“It gave me a great experience of a different league, especially as a young player. It gave me first team football and the chance to show my ability.” Rodriguez made the most of his loan spell scoring 3 goals in 12 games and in the process winning praise from Burnley boss Owen Coyle:
“We knew Jay could play and that’s why we sent him on loan so he could develop from there.”
Then at the start of this season Coyle started including Rodriguez on the bench for first team games more often and it was from the bench where he had his best moment yet scoring that winner against Fulham.
Carling Cup Goal Versus Fulham
“I don’t know why i decided to try the feint, it was just instinct, a couple of the older lads have said that happens, instinct takes over.” It was that killer instinct that had Coyle once again praising the promising youngster following his late winner: “Jay is a talent, I am delighted he showed that level of composure at his age to score the winner,” he told Sky Sports.
The goal would have impressed the Burnley boss more than most given the fact he’s a striker. Rodriguez himself has said that he’s gaining a great deal from Coyle:
“He is a forward and you can learn a lot from the experience he’s had.” Coyle’s even been known to play for the reserves, a place where he sent Rodriguez straight back to after his Carling Cup strike: “I am going to tell him he is in the reserves tomorrow. Mind you he is a very level-headed lad.”
Rodriguez has been on fire for the reserves this season scoring six goals in six games so far. If he keeps that up, he will surely be pushing for a first team place in no time. He himself says he’s ready to play week in week out: “Age is just a number,” which may come across as cocky to some, but there isn’t an arrogance about Rodriguez, just a relaxed self assurance in his own ability. He knows that he will have to bide his time: “I just want to keep playing and hopefully keep scoring, my main targets for the rest of the season are to keep doing well for the reserves and keep making the bench for Championship matches.”
Rodriguez has made the bench for the other Carling Cup wins against Chelsea and Arsenal but hasn’t been able to get on the pitch yet. However, he’s taken the positives from the ties and the experience of going to a big ground like Stamford Bridge and getting John Terry’s shirt has whetted his appetite for Premiership football: “I want to be a Premiership player in five years time,” he says with an air of seriousness to his statement.
Despite supporting Burnley, another team he has a soft spot for are Manchester United, and his boyhood idol growing up was Andy Cole. So you can imagine just what a dream come true it must have been when Cole had a brief spell at Burnley? Rodriguez had the chance to learn from his hero, and taste the quality of a Premier League striker: “Just watching him in training you learned a lot, the way he hit the ball at certain angles and he always told us to strike the ball early to catch the ‘keeper off guard.”
However, it’s Cole’s former strike partner Teddy Sheringham who Rodriguez aims more to be like, and you can see where he’s coming from. Whereas Cole was more of a fox in the box, predator Sheringham did some of his best work holding the ball up outside the box and bringing others into play. This is also one of the youngster’s biggest strengths: His ability to beat the defender to the ball with his back to goal holding up the ball and laying off for a teammate.
Add to this his height at 6’1″, along with his natural physical growth as he gets older and stronger, defenders have got a real problem on their hands. Coyle’s assumption is that in time, he can become Burnley’s number 9. In time, the boy from Burnley with the exotic sounding last name could become a Premier League hitman with a hint of Spanish flair.