JAY Rodriguez would be forgiven for not looking forward to the World Cup.
But when the first ball is kicked in just three days’ time, or when England make their bow in Brazil on Saturday, the striker will not be watching from behind the settee.
He would have front row seats if he could, cheering on current and ex Southampton team-mates Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, who although now a Liverpool player remains a firm friend.
Rodriguez could have been among them, after breaking onto the full international scene in November.
Although he did not catch the eye as much as Lallana on the night, in an awkward friendly with Chile, Roy Hodgson maintained his watch on the 24-year-old domestically and kept him in the England fold.
He included him in the squad for the next friendly with Denmark in early March, also at the national stadium, although the opportunity to add to that first full cap did not arise.
The England manager was at the Etihad on Saturday April 5 this year to monitor his World Cup hopefuls in action, Rodriguez among them, as Manchester City hosted Southampton.
The Burnley-born forward went into that game with five goals from his previous four outings, taking his overall tally to 17 in only his second Premier League season after leaving Turf Moor for the south coast.
But instead of adding to his impressive scoring streak, there was to be an awful twist in the ex-Claret’s season.
Rodriguez left the field on a stretcher after leaping to challenge for a header and landing badly, his right knee buckling under him.
Pain was etched on his face as he sat on the ground, waiting for the club physio to dash to his mercy.
“Please no. Please no,” he was seen to say, clamping both hands over his eyes.
Shaw, Lambert, Morgan Schneiderlin and Jose Fonte, forming an instinctive protective barrier around their stricken striker, looked full of anguish.
City defender Martin Demichelis winced as he walked away. A nation hoped the outcome would not be as bad as it instantly appeared, that the prognosis would not rule him out of World Cup contention.
Those who had doubted a nervous England debut were now hoping for the best.
“We do not know the extent of the problem yet because we have not completed an assessment, but it is not looking good,” said then Saints manager Mauricio Pochettino in his post-match press conference.
“All the players are really upset, they can see how severe the injury is.”
But right then and there, in the arena in which his Premier League career had begun 18 months beforehand, Rodriguez sensed his dream of boarding the plane for Brazil was over.
“I knew straight away,” he said.
“It was pretty painful and felt really weird.
“When that happens in a tackle and you’re on your own you know it’s something more serious.
“I knew it was going to be a bad one.”
Since then he has undergone surgery to repair the ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, started rehabilitation and been given a six-month timeframe for recovery.
While it might never be known whether Rodriguez would have made it to Rio, not once has he wondered ‘what if?’.
“I never think ‘what if’,” he said.
“I’ve watched it back and thought ‘Why did I jump like that?’. But I always jump like that.
“I can’t watch it anymore. But it’s part of my life and part of my career and it will improve me physically and mentally in the long-run.
“It’s already made me hungry to achieve more.
“The first few weeks after I was really upset. All the emotions came out. But at the same time it could have been a lot worse.
“The surgery has gone well, I’ve got a time frame and I’m looking forward to getting back.
“It’s a big test in my career but I’m looking to overcome it.
“I’d wanted to finish the season strongly, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“I’ve got good family and friends and they were there to support me and got me through it. I’ve got good people around me.
“Simone (Rodriguez’s fiancee) has kept me sane and things are looking positive now.”
Rodriguez has had plenty of support from the England camp too, with goodwill messages from Wayne Rooney, among others.
Hodgson telephoned him too.
“He spoke to me and said some nice things, which I really appreciated. It meant a lot,” said Rodriguez, who is ready to get right behind the Three Lions and his three Southampton pals, even though Lambert completed a £4million move to Liverpool before the tournament.
“It won’t be hard because I have such a good relationship with the three lads,” he said.
“I can’t wait to watch them be involved because they’ve deserved to get there.
“They would be feeling the same if it was the other way round.”