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Elliot Embleton: The Missing Ingredient?

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Sunderland youngster Elliot Embleton’s star briefly shone last season before injury struck. Roker Report’s Philip West argues that 2020-21 could prove to be crucial for the skilful midfielder.

Sunderland Pre-Season Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

During what has felt like a never-ending summer and an interminably long gap between the old season ending and a new one beginning, there have been many Sunderland-related topics pored-over, scrutinised, and hotly debated.

In the midst of all this, one man has seldom been discussed. As we have had to bid farewell to the likes of Bali Mumba for comparative pennies, a player who found himself on the fringes last season may soon find himself back at the heart of the discussion when talking about Sunderland’s best eleven.

I’m talking about Elliot Embleton.

Twelve months ago, he was being hotly tipped as one of our brightest hopes and most exciting prospects. With Denver Hume already breaking into the squad and establishing himself as an integral part of the team, the same was hoped of Embleton; that he too could make the step up and use a second League One campaign as a showcase for his exciting talent.

Sunderland v Heerenveen Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as hoped. After finding himself on the fringes of several matchday squads last season, injuries hit Embleton hard, and he subsequently found himself well off the radar as the likes of George Dobson and Max Power firmly established themselves as Parkinson’s trusted lieutenants in the middle of the park in what ultimately proved to be a futile post-Christmas salvage job.

There is no doubt that Embleton is a talented footballer with significant potential, but that on its own isn’t enough, and 2020-2021, you suspect, is going to be a key season for this young man as he attempts to force himself back into Phil Parkinson’s thinking.

Aiden O’Brien’s arrival last week hopefully represented the first of many incomings this summer and, if all goes to plan, there could be some positive competition for places by the time the transfer window closes.

This can only be of benefit to the team, but will place greater pressure on individual players to maintain a certain standard of performance, and Embleton will need to respond accordingly.

Fundamentally, and as my Roker Report colleague Tom Atkinson wrote last week, we need to find alternative ways to pick the locks of opposition defences when things get tight, and to move the ball through midfield at a much brisker pace than we do currently. Twelve months ago, I firmly believed that Dylan McGeouch could be that player, but it didn’t work out, and so now we are looking for a new player to fill the breach. Could Embleton be that man?

He does possess a good range of passing and always looks more than comfortable on the ball, and in the often thud-and-blunder world of League One midfield/forward play, that is something of a priceless commodity. More guile and less grunt could be the order of the day.

Which player, at this stage, would we describe as the ‘oil in the Sunderland machine’? Chris Maguire, perhaps? He can’t be expected to do it all by himself, and that is where Embleton may come into his own.

I believe that Phil Parkinson does place a high premium on loyalty to his players, and if he is afforded a first-team berth, he simply must grab it firmly.

Sheffield United v Sunderland AFC - Carabao Cup Third Round Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

In my opinion, there is also a bigger picture to consider when examining Embleton’s prospects next season. How much would the collective spirits of Sunderland fans be lifted if a local player could become an integral part of a promotion-winning team?

We’ve always had them over the years, and were he to play 30+ league games next season and finish up with a promotion on his CV, I have no doubts that we would take great heart from it. Denver Hume is still inconsistent in terms of his performances, but he is a now a first-team regular, and having players with a genuine emotional investment in the team’s fortunes is something worth pursuing.

With Embleton, as well as the likes of the very promising Jack Diamond already on the books, we do have a good crop of young players on the verge of potentially making a breakthrough.

If Parkinson puts some faith in youth and strikes a balance between external signings and promoting from within, there’s every chance that a successful season could lie ahead.