In the wake of Bali Mumba’s proposed move to Norwich, and the week that we “celebrate” the end of Paul Reid’s tenure as the head of Sunderland’s academy, I’d like to discuss the disarray within our youth setup and what it all could mean.
In the last two years a whole team’s worth - plus three - have disappeared from our ranks: Joel Asoro; Michael Woud; Sam Greenwood; Luca Stephenson; Morten Spencer; Luke Hewitson; James McConnell; Josh Maja; George Honeyman; Logan Pye; Jacob Young; Joe Hugill; Andrew Nelson; and now Bali Mumba.
There’s no doubting that the majority here have gone on to sides better placed than ourselves, but how did their moves come to pass?
The dictionary definition of asset stripping is:
The practice of taking over a company in financial difficulties and selling each of its assets separately at a profit without regard for the company’s future.
That makes for interesting reading in its own right, and I’m sure it is possible to draw some parallels from that alone, but let’s explain it in another way.
Consider, if you will, a garden; with a number of flowers in it and a large number growing well, albeit not fully developed. I would like to sell the whole garden, and therefore want it to be as attractive as possible to buyers. So I proceed to sell all the developing flowers in order to keep the garden in good shape, thus making it a more attractive prospect to sell.
However, in my haste to maintain it, I am failing to consider the consequences of having sold all the flowers. Ultimately, my garden will appear to be in a good position for someone to buy; but it will basically be nothing more than a patch of land where once there was something beautiful. The garden has been sacrificed, and it will take time and effort to make it what it once was. Does that sound familiar?
The crude analogy above could be argued as a representation of where we are, presently, under the current regime. But it is supported by allegations elsewhere.
Once upon a time, I sent a question to the members of the Roker Rapport podcast, asking what the club were doing to prevent the loss of our talented young players. This question was presented to Paul Reid and Charlie Methven, on the 10th November 2019 edition, where it was resoundingly explained that nothing could be done to prevent the poaching of our youth prospects. It was the big clubs circling, what could little old Sunderland do to stop them?
Quite a lot, as it happens.
Testimony from the mother of Luca Stephenson, who moved to Liverpool, was alleged on the Sunderland Message Board. She explained that they had been approached by Liverpool and heard everything they had to say before Sunderland even bothered to get in touch.
Now, I can accept that the lure of Liverpool would be huge – just look at the success Jordan Henderson has had. He can now mull over his Premier League and Champions League winners medal, but how would a player of his ilk be treated today?
I can’t accept that little to no effort was made to keep a player with Stephenson’s potential at the club, though rumours of the financial package involved may shed light on that. You have to wonder if this could be a similar story across the board in football, with other alleged murmurs coming from those close to Sam Greenwood, currently of Arsenal, who has since been linked Juventus and AC Milan.
I think most supporters of Sunderland are proud of our academy, and would love to have a raft of young players coming through, and it wasn’t long ago that Charlie Methven was bullishly championing Sunderland keeping their Category One status, despite serious talent being allowed to drift away.
Yet we now hear from Jim Rodwell, Sunderland’s new CEO when asked by RAWA, “that all options must be considered” with regards to the academy. It is a shocking turn of events, and the removal of Paul Reid further fuels this fire. I hesitate to refer back to my previous analogy, but are getting rid of the very soil which allows the flowers to grow? Who will be next to leave? Maybe Denver Hume or Elliot Embleton will catch the eye?
And when will it stop? Maybe only when this regime decides to make like a tree, and leaves.