This World Cup has thrown up a number of interesting Sunderland AFC links, both past and present - and perhaps the most fascinating one is the emerging profile of Mike Dodds, our current Head of Player Development.
Last February Dodds was - clearly reluctantly - thrown into the spotlight when along with Michael Proctor he took charge of the first team for a couple of games after the departure of Lee Johnson. Given what has happened since that period feels like a lifetime ago, it is quite hard to believe that it was actually earlier this year.
Dodds was then cast – very unfairly – as a bit of a joke figure as he struggled to deal with the touchline pressures of first team management and a broken spirit in the squad. He was asked to step into a role in which he was not experienced to deal with.
Many fans formed a view on him based on this brief and unfortunate period.
Over the last couple of weeks, Dodds has appeared on our TV screens with regularity. Every time there is a feature on Jude Bellingham the networks turn to Dodds for his insight on the man and the player. He is projected as the person who has most influenced the England superstar’s career.
Hearing both Bellingham and Dodds speak about their time together and the esteem in which Dodds is held by young Jude is sure to change people’s perception of the man and his abilities.
It is clear that Mike Dodds remains an important figure to Bellingham – he wouldn’t be interviewed if he wasn’t – and it is also clear from listening to him that he is well suited to his role in player development.
Could this raising of his profile and the additional appreciation of his skills which goes with that be an important asset to the club as we move forward? I think that it could.
The ambition, policy and philosophy of the club is to develop young players and promote them through to the first team squad, maximizing their value. That is exactly what Dodds did at Birmingham with a player who is surely set to command a nine-digit transfer fee in one of the next two transfer windows.
Bellingham’s progression is clearly not all down to the work of Mike Dodds, but the maturity that he shows on and off the pitch has been nurtured and influenced by those around him, including Mike Dodds who has been front and centre of his development.
That can only be good news for Sunderland.
Over the last few years we have lost the talent of the likes of Joe Hugill, Sam Greenwood (and others) to Premier League academies. Greenwood is now getting minutes for Leeds in the top league. The reasons for their departures at such a young age may have been driven by ambition (their own and our lack of), money, or by the then owners' need for cash to keep the lights on, we will never know.
However, now we are in a better position we must do whatever we can to attract and retain our best kids. If reports are to be believed we have some very good ones, and the eyes of other clubs are on them.
We must do whatever we can to retain the lads who are not yet in the full-time setup, and those who are for as long as possible if we are to maximise value. Surely having a man with the reputation of Mike Dodds in developing footballers as professionals and as people at the club will help us recruit and retain such talent for longer than we otherwise would have.
Add that to the sight of academy products - of an albeit different era - in Henderson and Pickford starring at the world cup and our Academy should be an attractive one for the best talent to consider joining or remaining at.
It shouldn’t really be the case, but suddenly it is clear that Mike Dodds is not the guy who struggled on the touchline back in February, but he is a guy with a great reputation in his field, a man who is vital to the model which will hopefully return us to where we all want to be.
It will be fascinating to see if he can develop a player who can become a Pickford, Henderson or the next Jude Bellingham in the next few years.