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Sunderland Academy: Robson the first of a few U23s to move on? African lads progress in trials

It looks like there’ll be further movement out of the Sunderland academy in the coming weeks. But who is in the next batch of talent looking to move in?

Sunderland v Newcastle United: U18 Premier League
A game at the Academy of Light
Photo by Newcastle United/Newcastle Utd via Getty Images

Left-back Tommy Robson has departed Sunderland and looks set to be the first of a few movements out of the Academy of Light in the coming weeks.

The 22-year-old has been with the club since he was a boy and has signed an initial six-month contract with Scottish Championship side Falkirk. The Bairns are struggling in Scotland’s second tier, with just one win all season, and are desperate for reinforcements.

The Stanley-born defender looks set to be the first in a minor clearance of personnel from the club’s U23 set-up. Andrew Nelson has already been linked with a move to join him at Falkirk and it’s expected that others such as winger Rees Greenwood will also be allowed the opportunity to experience first team football elsewhere.

Defender Michael Ledger joined Hartlepool on a season-long loan in the summer and goalkeeper Max Stryjek is still with Accrington Stanley - though he’s only featured once in League Two so far. Striker Nelson has already had a short spell out with National League Harrogate Town.

Tottenham Hotspur U21 v Sunderland U21: Barclays U21 Premier League
Tommy Robson in an U21 match in 2016
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Robson has endured a frustrating 12 months since he was prevented from leaving the club in the summer of 2016. That was because David Moyes was without cover for then-senior left back Patrick van Aanholt and subsequent proposed moves to other Football League clubs came and went after that.

The academy graduate revealed last night to the Sunderland Echo that he’s spent much of the intervening period training alone, so a move north of the border will mark a fresh start for the County Durham lad.

Elsewhere, you may recall that The Sun led on a story last month suggesting that Sunderland were still active in Tanzania and were taking a look at three schoolboys from the East African country.

According to reports in their homeland, the trialists have passed stage one of the Black Cats youth scouting process and Sunderland officials will take another look at them in mid-January.

The boys play for Kahororo FC and their team manager Audax Mutasingwa told Tanzania’s national news outlet, “The players have successfully completed stage one trials. The second and third stages would be held on January 13 -14, next year”.

It’s now several years since Sunderland began investing in the African country. In 2013, SAFC became a partner in a football academy project alongside global electricity company Symbion Power. That initiative followed the Invest in Africa programme and a partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. In 2016 Sunderland announced a sponsorship programme with a Tanzanian mining company but there’s been little visible sign of an end product until now.

Invest in Africa/AFC Sunderland Event
The Invest in Africa partnership was unveiled to great fanfare by Sunderland owner Ellis Short in 2012
Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

The report suggests Sunderland still have a representative in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. The Black Cats official suggested the talent spotting initiative is still underway, saying:

Sunderland Academy has a large scouting network with scouts watching games and tournaments around the world. This is our main source of recruiting young and talented players

The Academy of Light has increasingly come under the spotlight in recent years for perceived failings to produce sufficient talent to justify its expense. High profile successes such as Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford have been few and far between but the current crop has included several knocking on the door of the senior team.

George Honeyman has established himself as a first team regular this season and Lynden Gooch is not far behind. And Saturday’s goal-scoring hero Josh Maja and Swedish Under-21 international Joel Asoro are two of the most exciting prospects to be produced by the Wearside youth set-up in some time.