by JAKE NUTTING
A few weeks after the book closed on the 2019 Tampa Bay Rowdies, head coach Neill Collins spoke with Unused Substitutes on a number of topics. When reflecting on the experiment of taking youngsters Caleb Richards and Jordan Doherty on loan from English sides Collins said, “If some day down the line they decide to come back to Tampa Bay it’d be a privilege to have either of them.”
Well, it turns out that day came sooner than some expected. Doherty was officially announced as a full-time Rowdies player by the club in late January, but the wheels were in motion to bring the midfielder over from Sheffield United long before that.
“We’re really excited to welcome Jordan back to the Rowdies on a permanent basis,” Collins said at the time of the announcement. “I’d like to extend my thanks to the folks at Sheffield for their help in getting this deal done. Jordan is a player that really showed his qualities last season despite being the youngest player in the team. We really look forward to watching his development.”
The 19-year-old returned to England quickly after the Rowdies’ season concluded and, after a little over a week off, was right back intro training with Sheffield United’s reserves. A few trial opportunities came up, but nothing quite stuck. Meanwhile, the Rowdies were doing their due diligence in the off-season just to keep tabs on Doherty and Richards, as both had provided great value on the field. Sheffield’s United’s unexpected success in the Premier League this season possibly added to the club’s willingness to move Doherty, who at one point captained the club’s U19 and U23 squads.
While Norwich City eventually sent Richards on loan to Yeovil Town, it came to a point where the Rowdies and Sheffield United began seriously talking about the possibility of a transfer for Doherty.
It was welcome news for Doherty.
“It wasn’t so much a surprise, I was just happy in a way,” Doherty said of his reaction when he leard of Tampa Bay’s interest. “Obviously it was good to know they wanted me to come back. It kinda means you had a good year last season, you know. It was just more of a good feeling to get that offer to come back here. So it wasn’t so much a surprise, just gratefulness and happiness to get back.”
As happy as Doherty was to hear the news, it’s still a big decision for any young player to make before they even turn 20. It’s one thing to move across an ocean knowing it’ll just be for a year, it’s another to make the move permanent.
“My agent played a big part, and then obviously I’ve got a lot of people in the game that I trust. I spoke to some coaches back in England that I’ve had in the past,” Doherty said of his decision process. “Of course I spoke to Neill about the move a couple of times. Then just family, really. Family’s a really big part of it. We all really came to the conclusion that this was the best thing for my career to come back here to the Rowdies and see what happens from there.”
The Rowdies did not pay a transfer fee for Doherty. Instead, the two sides worked out a sell-on clause, meaning if the Rowdies end up selling Doherty down the road Sheffield would receive a portion of the fee.
It’s a good bit of business for a player the Rowdies took a chance on last year without knowing how it would work out. They brought Doherty into the squad hoping he’d be good competition for midfielder Dom Oduro but he ended up playing over 1,200 minutes in 20 appearances. Forward Juan Tejada got much of the spotlight last year (deservedly so), but Doherty is arguably just as good of an example of the type of benefits the club’s emphasis on youth can yield.
“If I look at myself from when I first came to the Rowdies to when I left at the end of last season, I was a miles better player and person at that. It was just a really big learning curve for me and I feel like I’ve benefited so much from coming here. Hopefully this season I can kick on again and continue that upwards curve.”
Doherty wasn’t able to come into Rowdies preseason came until early February, yet he wasn’t far behind in conditioning since he was training with Sheffield United most of the time he was back in England. Additionally, he didn’t really have to worry about the uncertainty of a transatlantic move again since he got to keep the same apartment he had last year.
“There’s a really great atmosphere, a really competitive atmosphere in the changing room,” he said. “There’s a lot of quality in every position. It’s only gonna make us better and it’s only gonna help us during the season having that depth of quality players. It’s a really good group and we’re in for a really good year again. Hopefully we can better ourselves from last season and push on even more.”