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Roker Roundup: Sunderland’s Sporting Director explains where Neil & Embleton fit into plans

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Sunderland’s Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman has explained what the club plans to do with young prospects Elliot Embleton and Dan Neil.

Roker Roundup 20/21
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Speakman discusses the development of Neil and Embleton

Sunderland’s Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman appeared on SAFC Unfiltered yesterday and during his talk with the official club podcast, he discussed the development of two of Sunderland’s most promising players.

Dan Neil and Elliot Embleton have both been in and around the first team squad this season but while Neil starred in Tuesday’s 3-0 Papa John Trophy win over MK Dons, Embleton headed out on loan to League One rivals Blackpool.

Regarding Neil, Speakman heaped praise on the 19-year-old and pointed to the midfielder having a little more time on his side due to his age, so a loan move was not as pressing as it may have been for Embleton.

Although a move to the National League may still happen if Neil is not around the first team squad in the near future, Speakman is clear about the midfielder taking an integral role in Sunderland for the foreseeable future:

Dan’s got a little bit more time on his side for where his age is at, at the minute, than Elliot. They’re two different situations.

With Dan, he had the injury from the last Papa John’s Trophy game, we’ve had to look at that one a little bit later in the window, in terms of what’s the best course of action.

Dan’s going to be an integral part of this football club for the short, medium and long-term. I think that’s really, really important.

So it’s trying to make sure we can map out and plan his best route. At the minute, he’s obviously played in that game, he’ll obviously be available for the other games and I think he’s a young player who is pushing the other players to get in there.

So let’s not rule out Dan Neil playing more league games to start off with and that’s up to Dan Neil to be able to prove to the coach that he’s above one or two of those other players that you spoke about and that goes back to that healthy competition point.

I think with Dan, we can assess it and me and Lee have spoken a lot about this opportunity where he can go out and play in the Conference, which I don’t think is necessarily Dan’s level, I think, obviously, that Dan is above that level but what it does do is it gets the opportunity to get some minutes and some competitive football and I think that’s just us using the system to our advantage.

He could easily go out to League Two, we had lots of people who were really, really keen on taking Dan Neil on loan but it’s also making sure we make the right judgement call for him and we felt like at the minute it was important to keep him around the squad, I think that’s vindicated by how well he did on Tuesday, it shows how close he is to the first team group.

Hopefully he can spend some more time in and around the squad and, if not, we can look at the other options that are available to us.

I don’t think people should look at loaning him to the Conference as a negative, as long as it’s part of the plan and we understand why we’re doing it and what the advantages are, then I think it’s a positive.

Embleton’s loan move to Blackpool may have come as something of a surprise on transfer deadline day but Speakman says that with the midfielder recently suffering from both injuries and Covid-19, he needed to head out to ensure he played more minutes before the end of the season:

Elliot’s probably the one everyone will look at and go “really not sure why you’ve done that”, if you look at Elliot at the present time, he’s only played 650 minutes this season in senior football across the league and the cup competitions.

He had a great loan previously in League Two, where he did really, really well. He’s been out injured, he had the Covid issue where he obviously missed the opportunity to play games and Elliot could have stayed and could have played more games and more starts with us but then would that have been enough for where his profile is at the minute in his development?

I think it’s a great thing for Elliot that another League One club wants to take him, there are clubs there that were really interested in him but we just felt that Blackpool with Neil [Critchley], who understands young players, was the perfect situation to replicate what we’re doing here if you like but hopefully with more minutes.

I say hopefully because he has to earn those minutes at Blackpool, it’s not like it’s a gimme, but we just felt that if we got to the end of the season, he would have played more minutes there than he would have for us and therefore that would have been the best outcome.

Under former Liverpool u23 head coach Neil Critchley, Blackpool have a similar playing style to Lee Johnson’s Sunderland and that was key to his move to the Seasiders:

You want to try and get as much repetition and frequency of the same types of things and the same situations in the games as you’re going to receive here at Sunderland.

The players will always have an awareness of what the loan option team can provide in terms of game styles and they are normally quite cute in terms of “well, I don’t want to go there” and I think sometimes that shows a real intelligence by the players to understand the pros and cons of those opportunities.

I think there’s probably been times at this football club or other football clubs where you just take a loan and I know sometimes people just say ‘you can’t have a bad loan’ but I disagree, I think you can.

I think for Elliot at the minute, it’s really, really important part of his development to be able to go out, integrate with a new squad and then go and perform and if he does that, he’s going to put himself in a fantastic place to come back here next summer for Sunderland in 21/22.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Papa John’s Trophy Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Watmore on his Sunderland departure

Duncan Watmore was released by Sunderland in the summer, seven years after joining the club from non-league outfit Altrincham Town.

He signed for Middlesbrough on a short-term deal back in November but did enough after just two months to earn a two-and-a-half year deal a little over a month later.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Athletic, Watmore revealed that he found out he was departing the Stadium of Light a week or so before it was officially announced but admits that the timing was right for both he and Sunderland.

The former England under-21 international says he has no bitterness over his exit but does wish he had been able to do more to help the club during the decline from the Premier League to League One:

I officially found out a week or two before, and it was just one of those things that was kind of right for both parties.

I really, really enjoyed my time at Sunderland. I have literally zero bitterness. I always try to take positives wherever I can and all I have is fond memories of a fantastic club and the people there, all the friends I made and everything they gave me. I’m very grateful.

I just wish I’d been able to help more, to help the club stay where it belonged. I always gave everything I could but sometimes — quite a lot of the time — I wasn’t at 100 per cent. I was either off the pitch or trying to get back on it, or not quite up to speed because of what happened with my injuries.

I guess it was one of the most extraordinary periods in the club’s history, although not necessarily for positive reasons. That’s the big shame.

You can read the full interview with Duncan Watmore by clicking HERE, where he discusses how he almost headed to India or Australia before heading to Middlesbrough, his happiest time being the 3-0 home win over Everton under Sam Allardyce and whether he ever felt about giving up his playing career.

Norwich City v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images