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Harrogate v Sunderland - Pre-Season Friendly

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Reader’s Corner: Do we need a statement of intent from Sunderland’s manager?

RR reader AngryJoe asks ‘Are we giving youth a chance and do we need a statement of intent from Lee Johnson on this subject?’ If you have a view, let us know - send us an email!

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Over the last five years or more, there have been increasing calls for giving youth a chance and each manager in turn has stated that is their raison d’être – only for them to fall back into old habits.

The new regime this time seems to be putting their money where their mouth is and has went through a strong recruitment drive for the academy, which is only sensible since we spend considerable sums to retain our grade one status. We are only one of a handful of clubs who can claim that status, which is amazing considering the club's current plight in League One.

So back to the case in hand – why do we need a statement of intent from Lee Johnson on this subject?

A couple of reasons spring to mind. The first was evidenced last season – a few young players were given cameos at various points earlier on, but come to the business end of the season they were almost all sidelined in favour of more experienced players.

Harrogate v Sunderland - Pre-Season Friendly
Lee Johnson
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Did Johnson only claim to give youth a chance because that is what the powers at be wanted to hear? A pattern seemingly followed by Ross and Parkinson. Or was it just a case of panic when getting within touching distance of promotion?

The motivation of those younger players is likely to be key to bringing them through and when the lads came off the pitch against York, where I think some had good games and displayed a bit of potential, the comments from the manager would have had their chins hitting the floor if I was in their shoes.

It’s obvious we need six recruits, if not six then I would take four quality ones instead.

Great. Does that mean half the team were shit?

And if so, which half exactly?

Then from the fans’ perspective, we are short of players, so who are we going to sign, and why are the club doing nothing?

If we need six players, where are those players and what exactly is happening?

If we need six players then surely we are in a mess, right?

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Papa John’s Trophy
Are we realistically going to see more of Dan Neil this season?
Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If the manager is truly on board with giving youth a chance, then a statement of intent can be like a new signing in itself. It can show the presence of a plan, to develop and grow what we have with encouragement. It doesn’t need to provide details, it can simply be at a level to alleviate the current fear of where the club is headed.

All that it takes is a carefully worded statement from the manager along the lines of...

We have a great academy with some exciting talent emerging through the ranks. We have some young players X, Y, Z who we hope to build the team around this season commanding greater playing time and defining the shape and direction of the team going forward.

A statement like this not only motivates the players mentioned but reinforces the belief of those younger kids in the academy that there is a pathway for them.

Harrogate v Sunderland - Pre-Season Friendly
Elliot Embleton scored a good goal at Harrogate, but he could still attract an offer from Blackpool before the window closes
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

It also sends a signal to the fans that we have a proper plan and that key positions we may have been worried about are actually covered. We then know that we are not just going to sign a last-minute journeyman or mercenary with a promise they are the next Messi or Ronaldo.

The current signals from Johnson are that none of the young lads, regardless of how well they will perform, will get a chance.

They will be replaced as soon as we get more signings, anyone is for sale at the right price. Embleton is a good player but may be sold to Blackpool if they up their offer. Dan Neil is progressing well but once Pritchard and O’Nien are fit and if we sign Ethan Galbraith, who we’ve been heavily linked with on loan from Manchester United, it’s sayonara boys!

The manager says “worst-case scenario, it may be three weeks into the season before we finalise our signings”. If that happens, and he gets the six he’s talked about, how many of our young players do you currently see in that squad?

We may end up with Burge between the sticks, new signings on either side of Doyle and Flanagan at the back, a new signing alongside Evans and O’Nien, with McGeady, Pritchard, and Stewart spearheading our front three.


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