Some of the headline acts are missing when Wales take on England on Thursday – Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Raheem Sterling and, most likely, Harry Kane – but the friendly represents an audition for others to grab the attention. That will ring true for Joe Rodon, the subject of an inquiry from Tottenham this week. Swansea expect a fight to keep the Wales defender beyond the Football League transfer deadline next Friday, with West Ham also keen on a player tracked by some of the Premier League’s elite for several years.
Rodon has developed into such a key pillar for Swansea that when his teammate for club and country, Connor Roberts, spoke on Tuesday he jokingly rubbished Rodon’s talents in the hope of putting suitors off. “He’s been pretty poor over the last season or so I’m not sure why the big clubs are looking at him,” Roberts said, grinning. “If I look across [during the England game] and he is taking it easy I will be shouting at him and telling him to buck his ideas up.”
The allure of Rodon is that not only has the 22-year-old proved a sound defender since making his Championship debut a little more than two years ago – he is a tower of strength and an aerial presence in both boxes – but he is also ice-cool in possession and comfortable striding forward to start attacks. For Cameron Toshack, who along with Gary Richards worked with Rodon at under-18 and under-23 level at Swansea, the defender’s rise is no surprise.
It was Richards who recommended Rodon be fast-tracked into the under-18s at 16. “He is a ball-playing centre-half, not afraid to step into central areas where there are bodies,” says Toshack, now manager of Pafos FC in Cyprus. “For your centre-half to be happy to go into midfield areas, create things and make forward passes is something the Swansea model was all about.”
Ryan Giggs sees shades of Gary Pallister in Rodon and Toshack compares the defender’s calm to John Stones. For Toshack a Championship win at Millwall, when Swansea were reduced to 10 men early on and Rodon was reluctant to abandon his schooling with full-time approaching, sticks in the memory.
“He got the ball and stepped into midfield,” says Toshack. “You need courage to do that, trust in yourself and the model and the way you’ve been asked to play. It put a smile on my face when I saw him continue to do that when many centre-halves would have dropped back and tried to see games out. But that’s not Joe’s mentality.”
Last month Rodon, who idolised Ashley Williams, was named Swansea’s community player of the year and those who have worked with him speak highly of him as an individual with no airs or graces. “He is very a humble young man and a credit to his family,” says Toshack. “In every session, he always gave his best and asked questions to deliver the best he could possibly deliver. He struck everybody straight away with his enthusiasm, desire and single-mindedness to get better.”
Rodon, who grew up in Morriston, a few miles north of Swansea, joined his boyhood club aged eight after being spotted playing for Llangyfelach AFC. He hails from a Swansea-supporting – and sporting – family, who had season tickets at Vetch Field. His grandfather Peter played for Bradford, his uncle Chris for Brighton and his elder brother, Sam, was in the Swansea academy. His father, Keri, played basketball for Wales. Perhaps it no surprise Rodon was marked for big things from a young age.
He captained Wales at the Toulon Tournament in 2017 – a competition David Brooks, who could feature for Wales at Wembley, won with England – and impressed alongside Chris Mepham, whom he could partner in defence on Thursday. By the time Rodon stepped up into Swansea’s under-23s, when he played alongside his close friends Daniel James and Oli McBurnie, scouts were flocking to games.
In the summer of 2018 the departures of Alfie Mawson, Kyle Bartley and Federico Fernández opened the door for Rodon to make his league debut against Preston, a few months after returning from a character-building loan in League Two. “I would class him as a quiet leader,” says Gary Johnson, who signed Rodon for Cheltenham. “He went from under-23s to playing for three points where people’s livings are at stake. You have to grow up quick.
“As his confidence grew, he was happy moving other people around, talking to the back four. He is brave, strong and no shrinking violet. He can pass, you can trust him in possession and he can be first to the ball in the penalty area – we had to work with him on that and I’m sure Swansea did, too.”