When Ethan Robson curled in a beauty for Blackpool in the Papa Johns Trophy a couple it got me thinking, when was the last time one of our central midfield players did anything similar to that? It looked great, and it’s obvious that Robson is enjoying himself and being enjoyed by the Tangerine faithful, but it doesn’t half feel like déjà vu.
Robson departed Sunderland for nothing in the summer. He’d had issues with injury, but it’s fair to say he’d never been given a fair crack in the first team. Him leaving perhaps felt inconspicuous back then, maybe because we thought the players left in his position could do the job.
However, ten games into the new season, it is becoming clearer that they can’t. We may not be keeping tabs on him too much now, but we can ask some questions as to why the club thought Robson wasn’t worth keeping, but George Dobson was? If he could go back in time, I hope Phil Parkinson would approach the situation differently.
In reality, we’ve been letting half-decent players leave, only for them to go and become better players elsewhere, for too long now. Ethan Robson isn’t the best example of this, but he is the most recent. He will definitely have gone to Blackpool feeling like he had a chance to thrive away from Sunderland.
Bali Mumba is, maybe, a better example of a player coming through the academy at Sunderland, learning the game here and leaving way before they should have. He is also another player who fits into the category of ‘we would probably be a bit better if we still had them’. He is becoming liked down at Norwich, with fans shocked at how they were able to bring Mumba to Carrow Road for so little.
To be fair lads, same. But we aren’t as surprised as you are.
You can go further back with this way of analysing academy products. George Honeyman, Joel Asoro and Josh Maja all left when they were becoming important parts of the team. It felt as though they were sold unnecessarily, leaving us with gaps which we have never really filled since.
The question of whether or not these players would have been good enough for us anyway is answered by looking at their success since departing Wearside. John Egan and Conor Hourihane are now key Premier League footballers, and Martyn Waghorn has a one in four scoring record in over 400 first team appearances.
In an alternate universe, this trio could have spent years at Sunderland and thrived under a manager who knew how to play them. However, this is not that universe.
The majority of the players I have mentioned have all gone on to progress away from Sunderland. This success can be pinned down to one factor; the teams who signed them took a gamble and it paid off.
The likes of Egan, Waghorn and Hourihane were never given a sniff in the first team. They left Sunderland, dropped down the divisions to get regular football and are now all playing in levels higher than Sunderland.
Why does this keep happening to Sunderland? It’s a difficult question to answer. To some extent, it is a lack of ambition from the club. Making a quick buck at the expense of building any kind of half decent team has plagued Sunderland for years now. In some cases, it is player greed or, more accurately, it’s their agents greed - seeing that more money as on offer away from Wearside has regularly led players from Sunderland.
It’s often one step forward and two, or more, steps back with Sunderland. When it comes to selling players its no different. We have signed some absolute dross in the last decade, whilst simultaneously allowing many promising players to depart for meagre amounts.
We can’t turn back time, but the club can change the way it does things. This starts with not allowing a promising talent to leave prematurely. This shouldn’t be an issue for a while now, considering that any play with this tag has already gone.