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Comment: What's the point of an academy if Sunderland are going to give up prospects cheaply?

Worrying noises in the local press yesterday as Arsenal are said to be readying a bid of £5m for a pair of Sunderland academy prospects. With a Championship squad to build, selling young players who have a great shot at making the grade next season surely makes no sense.

So Arsenal are preparing a bid of £5m for Sunderland academy pair Joel Asoro and Benjamin Mbunga-Kimpioka.

As if things aren't bad enough already.

The Sunderland Echo report that the Gunners - who have scouted Asoro in particular extensively - are ready to capitalise on the managerial uncertainty at the Stadium of Light and steal the pair before either have been utilised in any meaningful way on Wearside.

Sunderland v Shrewsbury Town: EFL Cup
Joel Asoro
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

At 18, Asoro made his senior league debut last August in the Wear-Tees derby but barring a handful of cup appearances has yet to make a significant breakthrough into the Sunderland first team.

Mbunga-Kimpioka landed at the Academy of Light last summer at the tender of age of 16 fresh from the youth set-up at Swedish top-flight side Sirius IK. The winger who turned 17 in February made 22 appearances in the Under-18 Premier League last season.

But with Sunderland set to lose perhaps a dozen first team 'stars' this summer, Asoro will get his chance in the Championship and Mbunga-Kimpioka may not be far behind him.


So the point of having an academy, and the recent Sunderland boasts of a refreshed strategy to develop players in order to sell for a profit, will look utterly futile if these two prospects are enabled to depart for a few million quid with their full potential still virtually impossible to rate.

For many young hopefuls at Sunderland in recent times, being part of a club which has been relentlessly threatened with relegation has meant the opportunity to make the leap into a perma-pressurised Premier League squad has been limited.

And whilst David Moyes spoke at length last season about his self-perceived achievement in providing certain young players with opportunities to stake a place in the first team, his claims wither somewhat under scrutiny.

Certainly Sunderland afforded more minutes to players under the age of 24 in the Premier League campaign just ended than many clubs.

But much of those appearances were made by the trio of loanees brought in last season - all aged 22 or 23. In truth, Denayer, Manquillo and Januzaj offered little to the first team squad last term and now absolutely nothing to the club going forward.

The other notable prospects - Jordan Pickford and Duncan Watmore are clear Premier League-ready players and the other significant younger player to have now made the grade at Sunderland is the club's record signing - Didier Ndong - signed for a cool £14m.

England v France - Toulon Tournament Final
Jordan Pickford & Duncan Watmore at the Toulon Tournament in 2016
Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

Beyond those names, Moyes largely ignored the rest of his prospects with some baffling squad choices when games opened up to include his young players. Notably the now-former manager still avoided use of youngsters in cup games and during the most pointless run of fixtures in a decade once relegation was confirmed.

The Scot's attitude to youth was best summed up when he had a whole bench-full of academy graduates lined up for the visit of Burnley in the FA Cup in January only to ignore them all and, in making his only substitute of the afternoon, brought on the aged John O'Shea in the 84th minute.

But a season in the Championship ought to restore that balance for the likes of Asoro in particular and his slightly older peers including George Honeyman, Lynden Gooch and Josh Maja.

Of course the appeal of moving to a top-six club would be obvious for Asoro and Mbunga-Kimpiok. But the truth of it is, for Asoro in particular, the prospect of him getting any game time - which he is hungry to gain - will be non-existent at Arsenal.

For a player who last week hinted he may leave Sunderland if he is unable to break into the first team in the Championship next term - the chance of him ever getting a shot at the Emirates senior squad will be several years away - if ever.

The Swedish youngster who is preparing himself for the Under-21 European Championships in Poland suggested during the week that he has no desire to be playing U23 football for much longer and that he will consider his position once the identity of Sunderland's new manager is finally revealed.

Joel Asoro playing for Sweden

But of course a switch to the Emirates set-up would only ensure yet more 'junior' football for Asoro. But wider than that, are Sunderland really offering so little to their prospects that they're on the brink of departure as they turn 18?

When Asoro joined the Academy of Light, his representatives spoke of the club offering the young forward a great chance of development. With the player himself and likely those representatives now speaking to or planting stories in the press about him leaving for next to nothing - what's gone wrong?

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