Whilst the Sunderland academy hasn't been utilised as much as we might have perhaps liked by first team managers in recent years, whoever the man in charge is come the start of our upcoming Championship campaign will be more than likely be forced - mainly due to budgetary constraints - to look at the more talented and developed players that our youth system can provide him with.
Without delving too much into the finer details, I think it is safe to assume that Sunderland won't be working with a vast or expansive budget in the summer transfer window, and with a large amount of out of contract players potentially about to leave the club we will need to find ways of bringing through some of the players from within the system that are waiting in the wings for their opportunity to play first team football.
Perhaps the most prominent name of them all from that group of youngsters is George Honeyman. Having been tipped for big things as far back as when Paolo Di Canio was Sunderland manager, Honeyman has been a victim of circumstance - had Sunderland not been a side that constantly struggles it would be safe to assume that more opportunities would have been afforded to players like him in our first team. And now with his deal nearing its end, Honeyman faces the first major decision of his professional career: does he stay at Sunderland and attempt to make a name for himself here, in the Championship, or does he move elsewhere in the hope that another club can help him to reach his full potential?
It's a difficult choice to make - Sunderland may well be his club but he's struggled for opportunities here for a number of years now. What is to say that, regardless of Championship football, he'll be any more involved as a regular first team starter next season than he has been in the last two or three?
I suppose that in this instance Honeyman has to back himself.
He needs to start just one more game in order to trigger an automatic one year extension on his deal, so quite how much football he plays between now and the end of the season will be an indicator of whether or not he figures into David Moyes plans in our Championship campaign.
Regardless, I think that our situation means that we have to throw a bone to some of these younger lads that are waiting for a proper opportunity to show what they can offer to a team like ours. In the brief appearances that he has made so far this season, Honeyman has featured centrally and deeper than he has done whilst a youth - traditionally a number ten or a wide-left creative outlet, the 22-year old has been shoehorned into the centre of midfield more often than not by David Moyes and, in fairness to the lad, he's done alright. Not excellent or outstanding, but alright - at least enough to indicate that he could have something to offer us in the long term.
When he came on at the weekend against Bournemouth he replaced the worst player on the pitch and immediately we began to link between attack and defence far better. Honeyman isn't a shirker; he always wants the ball and goes looking from it - refreshing having seen the likes of Jack Rodwell in recent years go hiding more often than not in games where we really needed someone in the centre of midfield to be proactive on the ball. He was unlucky not to score with the match level at 0-0, and in general I thought that he had a decent enough game.
The Championship is a tough mistress; sometimes we'll be playing three times a week, and the importance of having a large squad cannot be stressed enough. Taking into account the sheer amount of injuries our players have suffered this season, it would be wise if we put together something resembling a deep squad, and in that we'll need to feature players just like Honeyman that can come in and offer us something when needed.
There's definitely something there with George that we need to at least attempt to pursue. Triggering his one year extension whilst also giving him ample playing time between now and the end of the season makes most sense to me - it would be a shame to see yet another young player leave the club when so much time and effort has been invested over many years into preparing them for first team football.