ALAN LEE was the first to shake Jordan Rhodes’ hand when he made his Football League debut.
And more than four years on, he’s backing his 22-year-old Huddersfield Town teammate to continue his climb up the ladder.
Freshly named as the League I Player of the Year, Rhodes replaced Lee in the 85th minute of Ipswich’s goalless Championship draw against Burnley at Portman Road in December 2007.
Now, as Town prepare for tomorrow’s key clash at Colchester, the Scotland ace is one goal off equalling Iwan Roberts’ post-War club best of 34 in a season.
“You could see back then that there was something special about him,” recalled fellow frontman Lee, who was reunited with Rhodes when he was signed from Crystal Palace in August 2010.
“It’s been great to see the way Jordan has developed, especially over the last year, and all the lads were delighted when he won is award.”
Rhodes pipped Charlton midfielder Johnnie Jackson and Sheffield United’s Welsh international striker Ched Evans to the division accolade.
And Lee added: “While they are both good players, it was no surprise that Jordan took the award after the season he’s had.
“He’s not only scored goals on a regular basis, but he’s also improved his all-round game and made his mark on the international scene.
“And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke. There are no airs and graces with Jordan – he’s a joy to play alongside.”
Some have credited experienced former Republic of Ireland star Lee, 33, with a big role in Rhodes’ impressive progress.
But he insisted: “It’s down to Jordan himself, because he’s the one who watches, listens and puts in the hours on the training ground.
“And the great thing is that he’s continuing to do that, which is why he has continued to get stronger and even better in front of goal.
“He has always been good in the air – just look at the number of times he makes clearances when we are defending corners – but now he’s better on the floor.
“His hold-up play has improved and he has worked hard to make himself versatile when it comes to playing different attacking roles.
“He’s a great asset to the club and a big part of our side, and hopefully he’ll keep firing in the goals which will help us win promotion.”