It was a bitter-sweet feeling when it was announced Jay Rodriguez had moved to West Bromwich Albion from Southampton for a reported fee in the region of £12million.
Firstly, it's sad to see Jay Rod leave the club, as one of the final pieces of the swashbuckling Mauricio Pochettino side which defied the odds and earned an eighth-placed berth in the Premier League back in 2013/14 after earning the club safety in its maiden season back in the top tier of English football the season previous.
Rodriguez was one of the good guys at Saints. He had hit form, netting 15 goals in 33 league games in the '13/14 season, and had won a full international cap for England in his country's friendly match against Chile. In March 2014, Rodriguez scored five goals in four matches. However, he suffered a horrendous knee injury—rupturing his ACL after landing awkwardly from a header—against Manchester City in early April, signalling an abrupt end to his season and years of more injury uncertainty to follow.
Rodriguez went on to miss the 2014 World Cup and the 2014/15 season in its entirety. After 16 months of treatment tables and physiotherapy, the Burnley-bred striker finally made his triumphant return to the Saints first team as a substitute for Graziano Pelle in Southampton's 2-0 away victory against Vitesse Arnhem in the 2015/16 qualifying rounds of the Europa League.
Despite his injury status, Rodriguez courted the interest of many suitors following his impressive '13/14 campaign and beyond. While many of his teammates and friends left Southampton for pastures new in the following summer, while others—Virgil van Dijk included—try to leave while Saints nurse the player through a long-term injury, Jay Rod showed loyalty to the club and later signed a four-year contract extension in May, 2015.
With a new contract signed and a return to first team football under his belt, many Saints fans hoped this signalled the free-scoring revival of Rodriguez's career. But that wasn't to be the case, with further injury setbacks limiting his appearances to 12 league games and zero goals in the 2015/16 season.
Rodriguez persevered, though. With Ronald Koeman leaving the club and much—though not all—of his injury worries behind him, Rodriguez saw more first team action for Saints under Claude Puel in his brief tenure as Southampton coach. Jay Rod scored five goals in 24 Premier League appearances under Puel, announcing his goalscoring comeback in style with a late equaliser to secure a point at home to struggling Sunderland in August. Rodriguez's two-goal salvo away at AFC Bournemouth was also a highlight, amplified by his twisting half-volley soaring past the right hand of former Saints goalkeeper Artur Boruc in a 3-1 win.
Even when fit, Puel appeared cold towards the thought of starting Rodriguez during his sole season in charge. But the striker eventually returned to the first team with just three games of the 2016/17 season left in a starting XI which largely consisted of the clubs' second-string team for Saints' 2-1 away win at Middlesbrough, netting the opening goal with a cool finish. Rodriguez then featured as a substitute as Southampton drew 0-0 at home to Manchester United in the penultimate game of the season.
Gutted not to be involved today after a good week. All the best to the lads today ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/DWx7LA85ul— Jay Rodriguez (@JayRodriguez9) May 21, 2017
But Rodriguez's performances against Boro and United were not enough for Puel to feature the striker in Saints' final game of the season against Stoke City—a 1-0 home loss to Mark Hughes' perennial midtable side. Rodriguez's tweet smacked of a man frustrated at his lack of opportunity, and rightfully so. Saints fans leaped to his defence online, offering comments of support which we all know is a rarity in the cesspit we call social media.
The loyalty Rodriguez had shown Southampton—a loyalty reciprocated after the club had stuck by him through injury—was rightfully rewarded with the adulation from Southampton fans.
That's why you won't find any Saints fans begrudging Rodriguez of a move to another Premier League club in the hopes of getting regular first team football once again. West Brom is a similarly-sized club to Saints, but is likelier to be more beneficial to Rodriguez in this stage of his career than Southampton is, given the Baggies' comparatively limited attacking options.
"After one or two 'near misses' I'm absolutely buzzing to be here," Rodriguez—a long-term target for West Brom boss Tony Pulis—told the club website.
"The most important thing for any player is to be wanted and Tony Pulis and Albion have made it clear just how much they have wanted me to join. That's fantastic for any footballer to hear.
"I'm genuinely delighted to be joining a club of Albion's stature. The team is full of top players and it's pretty clear that they are also a great set of lads."
This is a good move for one of Saints' good guys. I, and I'm sure a number of fellow Southampton fans, will eagerly keep an eye out for Rodriguez's progress at West Brom.
Congratulations on your fully-deserved move, Jay Rod. Just remember to go easy on us next time you play Saints.