When the new Sunderland owners appeared on the Roker Rapport Podcast last month, much was made of the huge advantage we have in the large working class fan base who would give their eyes and teeth to play for the club.
Charlie Methven said:
Unlike in London, there’s a higher proportion of young people who want to play football [in the north east], and if you get them into the right coaching set up and the right infrastructure you’ve got a higher percentage chance of producing good players.
The Sunderland academy is still producing an awful lot of good young players.
Two cases in point are Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford - both fan favourites during their time at the club, and both highly influenced by the legendary Kevin Ball whilst students of the game at the Academy of Light.
How proud were you of Sunderland when Jordan Henderson was interviewed after starring in England’s opening win against Tunisia on Monday night? He gave a solid performance, with some intelligent passes and a couple of shots on goal.
And Pickford, a Sunderland lad through and through, had little to do throughout the game, and was unlucky with the penalty that he got a fingertip to.
While researching for this piece, I found articles going back to 2007, all praising the work the academy does. And with new and energised owners, this is a resource we can be assured of being utilised to the full.
As well as Henderson and Pickford, the names of decent players who have came through the Sunderland youth system in the last few decades are long and many - Martyn Waghorn, Jack Colback, Kevin Kyle, Darren Holloway, Ben Alnwick, Grant Leadbitter, George McCartney, Michael Bridges, Michael Gray, Ethan Robson, Josh Maja, Joel Asoro, George Honeyman, Lynden Gooch, Elliot Embleton and Duncan Watmore are perhaps the most notable ones.
Just imagine if the Jordans of the future we watch being interviewed after a successful England performance were actually still at the club, helping them win something in the top league. Now that’s an aspiration worth going for.