Wouldn't it be just peachy if you could pop into your local Newsagent, pick up a copy of your local paper, turn to the back pages, and be met with a wall of weekly Roker Report goodness?
Good news, Durham folk! You can! Every Friday, just grab a copy of The Durham Times, which I am sure you would do anyway, for the princely sum of 50p, and that dream can be a reality. For the rest of you who fate have cruelly denied you the opportunity to do just that, well do not fear for we are here for you. Read on for Roker Report's latest Durham Times column in all its incandescent splendour.
According to modern football doctrine, if you are not a superstar by your late teens then you never will be. English football has become obsessed with the fabled 'wonderkid'. Somewhere along the way, the standard by which emerging academy talent is judged has become the instant impacts of players such as Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen. Worthy of immediate in-your-face-hype or not worthy at all.
The phenomenon can be summed up in 3 words – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Arsenal winger had barely scraped together half a dozen starts for the Gunners when his omission from the England squad to face Holland in February was deemed a disgrace by the national press.
The reality is that players capable of such instant impacts are a rarity. The modern game is unforgiving and, given the financial implications attached to relegation, the risks are too great to be carrying those learning their game. Patience has become pivotal.
At Sunderland, though, patience appears to be in good supply, and it has allowed Jack Colback to quietly blossom into one of the best kept secrets in the Premier League. He hasn't burst onto any scene or grabbed any headlines. He has simply been allowed to develop at his own pace and been prepared to wait for an opportunity.
The Killingworth-born player has been a revelation in the Sunderland side this season and plays with a quiet authority that belies his years. His excellent performance at the Stadium of Light against QPR was sandwiched between two dismal team performances against Blackburn and Everton, suggesting that Colback's midfield influence was sorely missed.
It would not require much stretching of the imagination, however, to have seen it being oh so different. At 22 years-old, Colback seems to have been around forever. He was part of the same youth teams and reserve teams through the ranks at Sunderland as Jordan Henderson, but was farmed out on loan to the football league whilst the younger, yet more physically developed, Henderson was given the opportunity.
With a host of Championship suitors chasing his signature, resentment and disillusionment at his situation at Sunderland would have been understandable. That he didn't slip through the system is credit to the patience and persistence of both player and club.
The importance to Sunderland's future of such faith in the academy to produce talent, even if it requires committing to developing it into their early 20s, was highlighted this week with the publication of the club's financial performance of the year. The figures showed a club gearing up to meet the new financial fair play regulations – something that will severely limit Ellis Short's ability to bankroll the club moving forward.
A Sunderland summer spending spree is something to which fans have grown accustomed in recent years, but last year's foray into the transfer market was not funded by the generosity of the club's owner but by the sale of an academy player. The same could be said for Newcastle United's summer business and, to a lesser extent, that of Blackburn Rovers. With stricter restraints on club borrowing, and the gulf in wealth between the elite of Europe and the rest ever widening, it is a trend that is only likely spread.
The club have emphasised their commitment to youth development by all but securing planning permission to extend the academy to meet the requirements for category one status in the controversial new EPPP youth development plan, but fans have a role to play too.
Players such as Ji Dong-won, Connor Wickham, and David Meyler who have not really delivered what was hoped must not be written off. The same can be said of academy prospects sprinkled throughout the football league such as Ryan Noble and Billy Knott. Because, as Jack Colback and James McClean have shown, there is no set path to prominence in football and the rewards for an open mind can very rich indeed.