It would be fair to say that there hasn’t been a more polarising figure in Sunderland’s team this season than 23-year old utility man George Honeyman.
The Academy of Light product - who has made 37 first-team appearances during the current campaign - has been a regular feature under the management of Simon Grayson and then Chris Coleman, with both men electing to play Honeyman in a variety of positions all over the park.
Indeed it would appear that Honeyman’s willingness to do anything for Sunderland has occasionally been to his detriment, and rather than holding down a regular slot in the side he’s been asked to play just about everywhere but in goal.
But it’s the youngster’s determination and mentality that has endeared him so much to the now-Sunderland manager and indeed many of the supporters, who can see that whilst he’s inexperienced, he has the desire and commitment that so few of his teammates possess.
Coleman - who himself was a captain during his playing days - thinks highly of Honeyman, and has talked up the Prudhoe-born attacker’s most impressive attributes in an interview with the Northern Echo in the aftermath of our defeat at the hands of Queens Park Rangers.
I’ve been in the game as a player and as a manager in professional football for 30 years and in terms of mentality, I haven’t seen anything better than George.
He has an absolutely huge, huge personality in that he’s desperate to play football and he’s desperate to play for Sunderland Football Club, even in these times.
These times now are tough for us and for George, but honestly, he’ll be much better at the end of them. I keep saying it, but he will.
Praise indeed, particularly from a man who has played and managed at the highest level and will have undoubtedly came across some seriously impressive characters during his long career in the game.
The Sunderland gaffer added;
He’s a chip off the old block. It bothers him for days if he plays badly. If he’s not playing, he’s devastated. It’s all about the game, all about playing football and playing for Sunderland. You saw today his input on the game was brilliant, his energy, his enthusiasm. His personality was absolutely great. He deserved something from the game, but you don’t always get what you deserve.
He’s a player to build around next season – 100 per cent, yes. Do you know what, you could build around him if you were in the league above.
George Honeyman’s don’t grow on trees. They don’t. If we were in the Premier League and I was standing here, I’d still say we could build around George Honeyman. He’s that type of boy and people forget that he’s still young.
Whilst Coleman’s comments may raise a few eyebrows it’s important to remember that this is a man who sees the players every day, understands our problems within the squad and will undoubtedly have one eye on next season - where it seems likely we’ll be playing third tier football for the first time in over thirty years.
Knowing full well that - whether we like it or not - we’re about to enter a new era at Sunderland, Coleman will be looking at his squad now and identifying the players that he can take with him on our journey towards rebuilding this club, whether that be in Championship or League One.
I wrote an article back in September about the perils of continuing to look upon the same tired, aged players for leadership within our squad, and when we lost at the weekend my mind immediately cast back to that piece and the message that I was trying to convey.
Whilst there are many, many reasons for why Sunderland AFC finds itself in such a mess, it cannot be ignored that whilst everything - including the furniture - has been changed in recent years in order to try and reboot this club, our ‘dressing room leaders’ have not.
But, with the end of the season will come the necessity for a fresh outlook.
John O’Shea will surely retire from playing upon the completion of his Sunderland contract in the summer, and Lee Cattermole - who has another three years left to run on his current deal - may decide to move on, particularly if a cash offer comes in for him from a club higher up the food chain.
George Honeyman - whilst not the most experienced or technically gifted player - is very well thought of and is obviously a player that Coleman sees as an integral part of his plans.
Leadership isn’t an easily acquired skill, and with Honeyman pin-pointed as a man who brings everything to the table that the Sunderland manager wants in a player, it’s not wholly inconceivable that we could be talking about Honeyman as a future Sunderland captain - particularly since the inevitible departure of John O’Shea will in effect force Coleman into selecting a new dressing-room influencer to get behind.