Rewind twelve months - Duncan Watmore was on the fringes of the Sunderland squad, and fans were crying out for the youngster to be given the chance to shine. Rightly or wrongly, both Gus Poyet and Dick Advocaat chose to expose Watmore to first-team football gradually, with the winger being reduced to substitute and reserve appearances for the majority of the 2014/15 campaign.
However, last season under Sam Allardyce, Watmore was finally given his chance to shine on Wearside following a superb end to 2015 for the youth teams for both club and country. Since returning from a broken leg at the turn of the year, Watmore went from strength to strength, breaking into the England under-21 setup and the Sunderland first-team.
The 21-year-old has been a revelation since his 2013 move from non-league side Altrincham, where he scored fifteen goals in fifty-four appearances. His rise from non-league football to the under-21 side of Sunderland, to then the first-team fold, has been admirable and has shown just how far hard work along with natural raw ability can get you.
Watmore has yet to be given a real chance to prove himself and cement a first-team opportunity at the Black Cats, that is despite scoring three goals in twenty-three appearances since his move three years ago. A brief loan spell in Scotland with Hibernian did not do the former Manchester Academy man justice, where he scored just the one goal in ten games.
The 2014-15 season was Watmore’s breakthrough year, despite missing the opening months of the season with a broken leg, the winger bounced back with a vengeance and picked up the ‘Barclays Under-21 Player of the Season’ after scoring eleven goals in just eighteen games. However, his season did not end there, Watmore was called up for International duty for the Under-20’s in the Toulon tournament, where he picked up the "Revelation of the Tournament’ award for his two goals.
Sunderland’s young winger was starting to make a name for himself and the press were beginning to take notice of his talents. However, Watmore is a level-headed young man and lets his football do the talking for him. The youngster graduated from Newcastle University last christmas, after studying an Economics degree during his rise to the Sunderland first-team fold, a path the player himself is grateful for.
Whilst Watmore himself may be biding his time for a deserved sustained run in the Sunderland starting line-up, fans are not so patient. His direct style of play and sheer determination and passion is exactly what Sunderland fans love to see from their team, and with Watmore being at such a young age, it makes it all the more satisfying to watch.
There is no doubt that there is room for improvement with Watmore. The winger has been accused of having a poor end product by sections of the crowd, whilst his first touch can often leave a lot to be desired. However, under the stewardship of Sam Allardyce last season, Watmore showed glimpses of quality, with three goals and an assist during a campaign that introduced Watmore as Sunderland’s impact substitute. The time has come for Watmore to establish himself as more than just an impact player. At the age of 22, the winger now has the opportunity to fulfill his potential at Sunderland having signed a new deal last year. We are scandalously short of natural width in our squad, with Jeremain Lens the only other natural winger in the squad, and Fabio Borini and Wahbi Khazri improvising in those roles last term.
As Watmore continues to blossom into a smart and direct footballer, the anticipation and eagerness to see him in the starting line-up from the Sunderland crowd will intensify. The 2016/17 season may just be the year that Watmore changes from ‘the young man with potential’ to becoming ‘the man for Sunderland’. With Watmore’s career going from strength to strength in red and white, and the all white of England, surely it is only a matter of time before the 21-year-old cements his place in the first-team for club and country.