The good news for the North-East when England announced their squad for the World Cup this summer was that Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford were named as part Gareth Southgate’s 23-man roster - an enormous feather in the cap of Sunderland’s development system and the Academy of Light.
Also included are former Mackem loanees Danny Rose and Danny Welbeck - two young players who used the Stadium of Light stage as a springboard for their top flight careers.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have been named in England’s final squad for the 2018 World Cup! pic.twitter.com/fRebE659JJ— B/R Football (@brfootball) May 16, 2018
The presence of these four, but particularly the pair of Jordans, highlights that everything has not been a car-crash catastrophe in the last decade or so at Sunderland AFC. Having two Academy products named in the squad - both of whom are likely to be in the starting XI come the opening game against Tunisia on June 18th - is a huge achievement for a club that has struggled for positive news in recent years.
Whilst we can feel a sense of pride that all four mentioned have represented Sunderland and will now represent their country, we do so knowing that two are playing their football in the city of Liverpool and two in London. The sense of what could have been may well sweep over us, but there is much to look forward through the achievements of these young men.
For next season, there are likely to be opportunities for a multitude of current Academy graduates. This year George Honeyman took his chance; Lynden Gooch followed up on his Premier League appearances and, as the season progressed, young Swede Joel Asoro came into the fold.
Ethan Robson also joined his fellow graduates in making his first team debut; Josh Maja and Elliot Embleton impressed and found places in the senior squad and, in a final flurry, Denver Hume, Luke Molyneux and Bali Mumba all debuted in the win over Champions Wolverhampton Wanderers on the final day. We also saw Max Stryjek and Owen Gamble make the bench sporadically over the course of the season.
These eleven youngsters can take heart this summer as they watch our former Academy stars lead the England quest for World Cup glory. The Jordan’s have trod the same path that these youngsters now walk every day in training. The hard work that earned our former Academy stars international call-ups and multi-million pound moves to two of England’s most historic and decorated teams can act as a huge inspiration to those currently wearing the famous red and white on Wearside.
For George Honeyman, who many are touting as a future Sunderland captain, watching the progress of Jordan Henderson may serve him well in the months to come. For the likes of Gooch, Stryjek, Embleton and Asoro, who have tasted international football, the drive and desire to be the next to receive regular senior call-ups from within the Sunderland ranks will surely be heightened as they watch the tournament this summer.
For all these youngsters, the presence of such players as Trent Alexander-Arnold or Ruben Lofus-Cheek is another indication that young talent has the ability to emerge and shine under the current England management. If they can prove their worth at Sunderland and establish themselves in a winning side, who knows what the future could hold over the next few years?
Who will stay and become key components in Sunderland’s bid for promotion from League One next season? Who may find loan opportunities elsewhere to continue their development? We can only wait and see, but having so many youngsters coming through the Sunderland Academy is heartening.
To see two of our biggest success stories lead England into the World Cup just brings a sense of fulfillment to Wearside - the pride we have for the Jordans is a wonderful thing, but the hope it must instill in the Academy lads makes their national duties that much more valuable.