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Port Vale v Sunderland - Carabao Cup First Round

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Reader’s Corner: Looking at the purpose of Sunderland’s U23s from a different angle

RR reader AngryJoe believes our younger players must be given a prolonged chance in the first team this season. If you have a view, let us know - send us an email!

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images,

In my last Reader’s Corner blog I posed the following question: if a club’s senior team are relegated, does that affect the supposed ability of the club’s u23 squad?

So, now I ask the opposite question... If a club’s senior team are promoted should that affect the supposed ability of their u23 squad?

The reason for this question is due to the current debate over whether the young lads should be given a chance this season in the first-team squad.

Some say they can only prove themselves by being given games; others say they are nowhere near first-team level and are not experienced enough.

Some of these youngsters were part of the academy when we were a Premier League team, others have recently joined us. Regardless, the intention was they were developed as footballers– but for what goal?

When in the Premier League, then ultimately the goal was to develop Premier League footballers.

But what of the recent additions? And the fact we are now in League One!

As said before, some say they are not good enough and should remain in the u23s, or if we want them to get experience we should loan them out. But to whom?

Grimsby Town v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League Two
Elliot Embleton had a spell on loan at Grimsby before joining Blackpool on loan.
Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

Now, back to the question “what if we are promoted”?

At present we have an u23 squad who some deem not good enough to deserve experience in League One. So, they surely can’t be good enough for the Championship or Premier League.

Does that then mean if we are promoted then we have to cast aside all the u23s and start again?

If we are a club with ambition then what should be the minimum level of our u23 squad be?

Should this then be independent of the senior squad?

If our goal is the Premier League then I believe the youngsters should be developed with that goal in mind and by the time they reach the u23 squad then they should be loaned to or playing in League One as a minimum as the correct level for their development.

Therefore, I believe for our academy to be successful, then the young lads we have seen in preseason need to be used as backup and given games in the case of injury, or loaned out to other League One clubs.

However, if we believe them to have Premier League potential, then the latter should not be the case.

Port Vale v Sunderland - Carabao Cup First Round
Hawkes impressed against Vale - hopefully he’ll get more opportunities
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images,

For the first time in a long time we must be bold and play these lads whether we like it or not because, quite simply, this should be their level, irrespective of the current woes of the first team.

If they have been recruited and developed properly then they should improve the squad at this level and continue their development. They will start out rough around the edges, but with games they should grow and improve.

My hope is that the likes of Richardson, Neil, Younger, Dyce, Hawkes, Patterson, Kimpioka et al will get to play 10-20 games this season.

Then if we are lucky are enough to get promoted they will be ready for the next stage of their development – the Championship.

If we don’t play them and we get promoted, they certainly would not be ready for the Championship if they are not ready for League One. They will have stagnated, in some cases be over-age, and will be released without ever been given a chance.

Worst-case scenario, they are not good enough and we don’t get promoted. Well as they are being used as backups then any failure to be promoted will not be down to them, but the seniors ahead of them. And the pathway to the first team would be open for those better suited to follow.


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