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Ledger's first team chances & Kevin Ball's role with youth; a chat with Viking boss Ian Burchnall

Sunderland defender Michael Ledger has returned to Wearside after four months on loan at Norwegian side Viking FK. In a chat with Roker Report, manager of the Stavanger side Ian Burchnall suggests the 19-year-old is ready to make the Black Cats first team in the Championship.

A few eyebrows were raised when Sunderland sent 19-year-old defender Michael Ledger on loan to Norwegian side Viking Stavanger in February following an initial trial. But in conversation with Roker Report, boss Ian Burchnall says the centre-half excelled in the Eliteserien and that his stint was a great success.

The Black Cats have reaped dividends from youngsters going out on loan in recent years with Jordan Pickford, Lynden Gooch and Duncan Watmore benefiting from experience away from the Sunderland academy.

But with changes in loan regulations biting from last summer, a temporary hiatus to sending out young players ensued before Sunderland opted to allow Ledger and fellow Under-23 defender Tommy Robson to experience football in a different country. The former journeyed to Norway whilst the latter headed for Ireland.

And both appear to benefited greatly from short spells, gaining exposure to a different environment and first team football.

Sunderland v Everton: Premier League 2
Michael Ledger playing for the Sunderland Premier League 2 side in January
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Michael Ledger has raised his profile enormously and is rumoured to have been watched by clubs from England and Germany whilst at Viking.

With a raft of central defenders already departed from the Stadium of Light or set to before the season starts, the youngster has a great chance of staking a claim in the first team squad for the Championship campaign.

And the Consett-born defender has returned from Scandinavia with glowing praise from Stavanger coach Ian Burchnell, as the Brit revealed in a wide-ranging conversation with us.

Burchnall on Viking Stavanger...

"It has been a tough season so far, and to give you context on us, we are one of the biggest and most successful clubs in Scandinavia. Right now the club is struggling economically and we have restructured with the remit of developing young players and producing our own. This is a transitional year for us and has been hard. Michael came in on loan to help us out and also help with his development and it was a very mutually beneficial agreement."

On Michael Ledger's performances...

"I was very pleased with his performances from day one. He arrived with 5 pre-season games left before the season started and this gave us a great chance for him to bed into the squad. We were impressed with how quickly he adapted and dropped in to the team without being fazed by it, fitting quickly into the group."

On Ledger's strengths...

"In terms of his strengths Michael is first and foremost a defender. He enjoys defending the box and is strong at it with a brave mentality. He developed his play on the ball too and makes good/smart decisions often."

On the level of Norwegian football...

"I would equate the Norwegian top flight to League 1 football, although I think League 1 in England is more physical and more end to end. In Norway the more structured build-up play and tactical processes are probably the biggest difference."

Michael Ledger limbering up in Norway

On Michael Ledger stepping up into the Sunderland side next season...

"I think Michael could certainly be ready to step up and play Championship football next season. At Viking he came in to a very young squad so that was a challenge for us, but I certainly feel with a little more experience around him he can take the next step."

On the support from Sunderland and Kevin Ball...

"Sunderland followed him very closely. I had a very good dialogue and contact with Kevin Ball, who also came over to visit. Sunderland and Kevin in particular were very thorough and we found them very good to work with. Kevin Ball is very involved and I believe doing a great job at the club with the development of the young players.

I think Sunderland were impressed with both the set-up and standard of play for Michael to develop in."

On reports in the press of English & German clubs monitoring Ledger...

"I wasn't aware of the interest in Michael whilst he was here but have seen it since he left and it doesn't surprise me. The Norwegian league is followed by many top leagues in Europe and we have a history of selling talented young players to Germany, Austria, Belgium amongst others.

It isn't often that a club sends a player on loan and he gets coveted by other top leagues but that is a benefit of coming to Scandinavia on loan."

Michael Ledger and Ian Burchnall

On future prospects for further loans to the Eliteserien...

"Of course being a manager in the Norwegian top-flight I would highly recommend it as an option for talented U23 players to take the next step. They have to grow as a person and learn a new culture along with an experience in football with different styles and methods. Of course for some dropping down the leagues in England is an option, but as we have seen with Michael the platform to play against international players, in good stadiums and gain recognition from other European clubs is a huge asset when sending players out on loan here."

An overall reflection on Michael Ledger, Viking Stavanger & Sunderland AFC...

"Overall I think this was a great experience for Michael and something that will put him in a fantastic position going forward. I will be following his progress and hope he can take his opportunity with the first team at Sunderland. During his time here he was a credit to himself and Sunderland football club and I hope it is the beginning of a positive relationship between ourselves and Sunderland in the future."

Thanks to Ian Burchnall for taking the time to talk to Roker Report.

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