Former Southampton striker Jay Rodriguez salutes the Saints ahead of St Mary's meeting

Moving away from his hometown - in a then-record sale from his boyhood club - was a big step for Burnley striker Jay Rodriguez.

Thursday, 13th February 2020, 7:00 am
Jay Rodriguez and Jack Cork during their time together at Southampton

The 30-year-old forward, who came through the academy at Turf Moor, had played 129 games for the Clarets, scoring 41 goals, before joining Southampton for £7m in the summer of 2012.

The Saints, under Nigel Adkins at the time, had just been promoted to the Premier League for the first time in seven years after finishing as runners up to Reading in the Championship.

Having to up sticks and leave for the South Coast, a 260-mile journey that forced him to leave his friends and family behind, was a daunting prospect for Rodriguez.

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Burnley striker Jay Rodriguez is surrounded by Arsenal shirts during the goalless draw at Turf Moor

But it was a process that was made all the more easier thanks to the welcome he was given at SO14. He said: “There’s a lot to be thankful to Southampton for. They obviously took me when they first got into the Premier League, which is a big thing for me, and I think that brought me on as a player and as a person.

“Having moved away from home I was made to feel very welcome there from start to finish and when I had my injury I’ll never forget the support I had from the club and the fans. That was really important to me.

“Moving away was a big thing. I had a lot of help from my wife [Simone] and we both moved down together.

“It was a massive step for both of us to move so far away from home. But people are friendly down there and it felt really easy.

“It was a great place to live and the club was a big help with that. I wanted to go down there and help Southampton improve and to help them become an established Premier League club.”

Jack Cork and former Clarets full back Danny Fox, who made 56 appearances under Brian Laws, played a significant part in convincing Rodriguez to take the leap of faith.

The pair, who had made the move 12 months earlier, had been integral in helping the Saints pip West Ham United to second spot in 2011/12.

“I remember speaking to him [Jack Cork] and Foxy [Danny Fox] about going down,” recalled Rodriguez. “They told me how good the club was and how it was improving.

“They felt like they were getting better as players and it was something they felt I should be a part of. All the lads there were very welcoming, they were the perfect club.”

Rodriguez, who had been sent out on loan to Stirling and Barnsley during Owen Coyle’s spell at Burnley, made his debut in the top flight in a 3-2 defeat away at Manchester City.

He netted twice in a League Cup win over Sheffield Wednesday four games later and went on to score his first Premier League goal in a home loss to Spurs in late October.

Rodriguez finished the campaign with nine goals from 37 appearances in all competitions as Southampton preserved their status in England’s top tier.

“It was a big step up,” he said. “During the first half of the season I felt that I was just finding my feet.

“I was in new surroundings, trying to find my way in the team and from around Christmas time I started to find a bit of form. I started building and feeling like a part of the team and part of the Premier League.

“That was a big thing for me personally, finding that confidence to be able to score a goal in the Premier League. That was always my aim and once I’d done that I started to build on to that.”

Rodriguez, who had starred in the “Capital Punishment” League Cup run for the Clarets prior to his departure, culminated the following term as Southampton’s leading scorer with 17 goals while earning his first and only cap for England.

He played just short of an hour at Wembley Stadium as the Three Lions went down to Chile in an international friendly courtesy of an Alexis Sanchez double.

However, the striker’s World Cup hopes went up in smoke when he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Southampton’s 4-1 defeat at Manchester City.

Rodriguez wouldn’t kick a ball competitively the following season in what were, undoubtedly, the darkest days of his career.

He said: “My experience at Southampton made me appreciate everything when I did have the injury. It just comes with football.

“The support I had through that was unbelievable. I’ve still got a book full of ‘get well soon’ messages.

“When I look through that I sometimes have to pinch myself that so many people cared. I think that’s why I have that mass respect for the fans and the club.

“I always like to see how Southampton are doing but, obviously, when we play, it’s business as usual. It’s a game I’ll enjoy, but we’ll need to go and win.

“They’d always do little things for me during my rehab. They’d send me for a weekend away to help me clear my mind and they gave me everything I needed to help me get back quickly. I felt that they went above and beyond and that’s something I’ll always respect. I’ll always be grateful to them.”