Sunderland: The kids are more than all right
The Black Cats suffered a blow this week when reserve team coaches Keith Bertschin and Stephen Clemence departed for Hull City to link-up with Steve Bruce, who was appointed manager of the Tigers in early June.
Bertschin, in particular will be missed, as it was under his guidance that the Sunderland second-string saw the emergence of Jack Colback and Jordan Henderson and honed the talents of James McClean. Martin O’Neill may now switch his attentions to bringing in a reserve team pair, or alternatively promote academy coach Kevin Ball. But whatever the Ulsterman chooses, priority must be on ensuring youngsters of the caliber of the aforementioned trio of Colback, Henderson and McClean are established.
Certainly if these events are anything to go by then the future is bright for Sunderland AFC; eleven members of the developmental squad signed professional contracts, several of whom are seen as the next generation of first-teamers and potential stand-outs.
Those rookies include defender Louis Laing, an England international at the U-19 level who spent last season on loan at League One side Wycombe Wanderers and is a stylish but old-fashioned centre-half who made his first team debut toward the end of last season’s 3-1 home loss to Wolves.
Another elegant centre-back who is making waves is John Egan, a Republic of Ireland U-19 international, who also spent time away last season, at both Crystal Palace and Sheffield United in the Championship.
Left back Blair Adams is another hot prospect and has been in and out of the first team squad for the last two years. The trio can certainly benefit with learning from the likes of John O’Shea and Wes Brown, and indeed O’Neill himself, and will hope the gaffer maintains his faith in the youth system.
Despite unleashing McClean in the Premier League and using no less than eight players under the age of 24, O’Neill was still hesitant with using the likes of Ryan Noble, a hotshot striker who scored goals for fun in the reserve league (25 goals in 22 games), and promised to give £12m forward Connor Wickham a run-out toward the end of the previous campaign, only to prolong that and see the youngster eventually ruled out through injury. Carlos Cuellar, who will be 31 in August, signed on Monday and isn’t the only player in their mid-30s that O’Neill has been interested in (Heskey anyone?).
A nice blend of experience and youth can never go wrong, as it helps the development process and gives the youngsters a sense of pride in the fact that they are being relied on to provide quality back-up. Hopefully this will be the year that the kids can come good for club and coach alike.
*On a side note-look out for 16-year-old Frenchman Mikael Mandron, who is eligible to represent both England and Scotland and is in his first full year at the Academy of Light.