Just over one week ago, Sunderland announced that their Academy Manager, Paul Reid, had left the club:
After retaining the Academy’s Category One status, Reid was interviewed by the Northern Echo back in February where he spoke about the confidence the club had in his approach, and the changes he was hoping to implement:
Recruitment was one of the big things I wanted to change. It’s different at first-team level, if you want to change players you can move them in and out. With the recruitment department I’ve been given the authority to structure it the way I want.
We’ve brought in Ged McNamee, who everyone will know. It might be seen by some as a bit of a left-field appointment, but I think it’s a brave appointment. He’s someone that knows the club inside out, he knows my role inside out and he knows what it takes to develop players through the academy.
To work alongside him there are still two full-time roles and another role that I’m looking to implement very soon.
There will be some national scouts to get coverage of games across the country, and possibly beyond. The recruitment department will look completely different in six-eight weeks.
Sunderland, though, have seemingly decided to move in a different direction, and Paul Reid will no longer be in charge of developing Sunderland’s young talents.
At the curtailment of the 2019/20 Premier League 2 competition, Sunderland’s U23 side finished dead last. In 18 games they had managed a solitary point, and had a goal difference of -43. The U18 side fared even worse with no points from 16 games, and a goal difference of -56.
Neither side were able to win a single competitive game - results just haven’t been good enough.
Reid argued that it was a difficult job making the youth sides competitive as some players were forced to play up a level due to the first team scooping up some of the young talent to fill their squad.
Truthfully, though, Sunderland’s only Academy players that were used actively in the first team were Denver Hume and arguably Elliot Embleton - though Embleton has struggled with injury.
Ethan Robson was loaned out for the first half of the season before fitness issues saw him frozen out of the side, and Benji Kimpioka struggled to break into the squad after a couple of bright showings in cup competitions.
Jordan Hunter was also loaned out to South Shields where he was joined by Bali Mumba - who is close to agreeing a switch to Norwich this summer. Jack Diamond and Jake Hackett were also loaned out to non-league sides as they looked for senior minutes in the second half of the season.
Ultimately, though, Sunderland’s Academy must be more competitive moving forward. Players must be able to find confidence in these youth sides in order to develop into senior players hopefully good enough to play professional football.
Reid’s comments about trying to promote youth players into the first team, however, has hit a major stumbling block as many young players have decided to ply their trade elsewhere.
Sunderland have had some success, for example, the club secured talented goalkeeper Adam Richardson to a new deal back in February. However, the number of talented youngsters deciding to move to pastures new is pretty grim reading:
Michael Woud (GK): signed by Willem II for an undisclosed figure in 2018
Jacob Young (CB): signed by Hoffenheim for an undisclosed figure in 2019
Logan Pye (LB): signed by Manchester United for an undisclosed figure in 2020
Luca Stephenson (CM): signed by Liverpool for a fee of around £200k in 2018
Bali Mumba (CM): close to signing for Norwich for a fee of around £350k this summer
Morten Spencer (LM): signed by Leeds for a fee believed to be £200k in 2019
Sam Greenwood (ST): signed by Arsenal for an undisclosed figure in 2018
Joe Hugill (ST): close to signing with Manchester United for £250k this summer
Cole Kiernan, too, also opted to sign professional terms with Middlesbrough last week, following Williams Kokolo down the A19.
Admittedly, it is difficult to keep some of the aforementioned players when bigger club’s come sniffing. However, looking at the current first team setup, youth players don’t have much to be enamoured about. Mumba, Robson, Embleton, and Kimpioka have all found minutes difficult to come by despite the club’s poor performances - so why not look elsewhere for a route into professional football?
Questions need to be asked as to why the club are unable to hold onto the aforementioned talent. Yes, big clubs might well be interested, but how as an organisation do you convince these young men to stay with the club?
The most simple answer is to give them genuine minutes with the senior side, and to compensate them with fair contracts that increase with their progression. Players need a clear pathway to the first team and assurances that they are important to the club’s growth. With the club in its lowest league position in its history - rebuilding the club with these young men at the core of our plans should be the main aim.
Instead they are sold for paltry sums, with some family members indicating they were sold proactively by the club.
Sunderland’s new appointment as Academy Manager will be indicative of the club’s hopes for their youth system moving forward. A meek, unimaginative appointment will do little to instill fans and youth players alike that Sunderland is the place to grow and become a professional football player.
A charismatic, impressive appointment, though, would signal real intent. An Academy Manager capable of inspiring his young charges and staff would be a genuine asset. Sunderland need something positive to help ease what is a genuinely bleak moment in their history - appointing the right man to develop our young talent could well be a catalyst for long-term growth.