The first time I heard Luke Rodgers was moving to New York Red Bulls was when it fell through. He was turned down for a visa due to an affray charge. The dream seemed all but over for the diminutive striker. This however was not my first memory of Birmingham born Rodgers. That would come around 8 years prior in an FA Cup tie against Everton.
He was playing for little known Shrewsbury Town in a now legendary game days after celebrating his 21st Birthday. A fast nuisance of a striker, he gave the Everton backline a torrid affair and brought a foul from Thomas Gravesen that was eventually converted for the winner by veteran Nigel Jemson.
His moment in the spotlight was short lived. Chelsea were the next Premier League visitors to Gay Meadow. With the element of surprise gone, a fairly routine 4-0 victory ensued and Rodgers was filed under ‘FA Cup shocks’ with the likes of Ronnie Radford and Kayode Odejayi.
A move to one of English football’s institutions Crewe Alexandra would follow two years later but it would be very much be the start of a difficult period for Rodgers. His goal scoring was never prolific, and spells with Port Vale and Yeovil Town preceeded a move to Notts County and his first meeting with Hans Backe.
It was around this time he picked up his second brush with the law after a drinking session in Nottingham. The off the field issues were overshadowing his playing career with the story of his car park confrontation with a Hartlepool United player being the standout moment.
When Backe left the turbulent scenes at The Magpies many thought he had made a smart move especially when you consider his next appointment would be in the nicer surroundings of New York/New Jersey.
So when it was announced that the Swede was looking to bring Rodgers across the ocean with him, I couldn’t claim to be anything other than surprised. In fact I even remember writing in a pre-season piece about NYRB that I expected little impact from the striker and that they had almost dodged a bullet with his rejected visa.
Imagine my surprise when he not only began to perform but chipped in with goals and assists. His mini rivalry with Landon ‘Who is Luke Rodgers?’ Donovan has been a particular highlight that allowed a display of Rodgers somewhat fiery character. The financial transparency in MLS allows for me to view his paycheck without ravaging through bins which is a relief.
It shows he earns roughly 2,100 GBP per week. Now we can’t compare that with a League One wage in England, but you would imagine it meets a similar level to what he was earning playing for the Magpies.
I recently interviewed Alexi Lalas in which he said something I couldn’t help but agree with. ‘MLS needs more characters’. To purists that might sound like Lalas wants an American circus in which MLS becomes a hybrid of 70’s NASL and WWE. It wasn’t. Taking just Italy and the Premier League as case studies, because they form the majority of my European knowledge, they both have their characters, as do most leagues in Europe. These players like Eric Cantona, Paolo Di Canio, Antonio Cassano, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jose Mourinho and Ian Holloway, just to name a few. Be it with offbeat quotes, their passionate displays or just something that added to their legend.
So in that sense while Rodgers benefit may appear purely on the pitch, scoring goals and providing assists. It must be remembered his off-field antics, especially his potential feud with Landon Donovan, sets him apart and makes him one of the more valuable players in the league because his contributions are both local and national.
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