Paul Merson recently said that we haven't got any young players coming through the ranks. In some respects he got that right but at the same time he couldn't be more wrong. As Sunderland's senior team sit struggling in the bottom three, it's an altogether different situation for Sunderland's U21 squad. Believe it or not the youth team are top of the league.
Yes for those who aren't aware you read that right. Top. Of. The. League. That's above Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, by some margin would you believe. Whatever we're doing we need to stick with it as strangely, for the Black Cats, it's working.
Merson identified, in a very literal sense, that there isn't anyone coming through but he blundered by failing to acknowledge that these young starlets are there. They're there in abundance in fact. Unfortunately though only Duncan Watmore has been given game time, save for a brief cameo by Lynden Gooch in the Capital One Cup outing against Exeter.
The secret seems to be that the U21's don't seem to be ‘polluted' by the toxic, debilitating atmosphere that surrounds the senior colleagues. Gary Neville commented recently too that bringing youth into the first team can lift an entire squad. If the youngsters bring some of that exuberance, drive and winning habit they possess with then it would be hard to disagree. Watmore is of course a great example and when he came on the pitch against Everton at the weekend he instantly embarrassed half of his teammates. He not only harried and chased lost causes he showed pace and a trick or two to beat the current media darling John Stones. Disappointingly this was overshadowed by the dour overall display of the side and obviously the score line too.
Of course this is not the first time Watmore has entered the fray and played well. This shouldn't surprise anyone within the club at this stage of proceedings. He needs more opportunities now; of that there can be no doubt. There are others though knocking at the door. There's the previously mentioned Lynden Gooch but also Mikael Mandron and centre back George Brady too. Brady is an interesting character as he has a bit of a pedigree. Born in France he has played in both Monaco and Chelsea's youth system and previously captained the London side's U18 team. There was a clamour for the prospect's signature not so long ago with some top sides involved in the skirmish for him. I'd assert Wes Brown is now better served by helping to bring through young talent like Brady to support the first team rather than hinder matters by playing in it.
It's great that Big Sam thinks a lot of Robbie Stockdale as the former youth team coach has now obviously been promoted to help assist the senior side. Allardyce has also been seen watching the U21's so he must surely be aware of their potential. This has to be a good sign going forward.
As the youngsters come off the back of conquering Leicester City U21's 6-1 you have to now ask, is it time to give youth a chance? Indeed when the answer is Wes Brown, Patrick Van Aanholt and co, the question becomes why ever not?