When Jewison Bennette slammed home the equalising goal at Vicarage Road on Saturday, before wheeling away in celebration towards the ecstatic travelling supporters, one can only guess at the sense of elation he must’ve been feeling.
Here was a player who arrived at Sunderland as an unknown to all but seasoned watchers of international and possibly Costa Rican domestic football, and after an impressive cameo against Reading in midweek, he stepped up against a high calibre opponent and delivered when it mattered.
During the superb win against the Royals, he showed a classy first touch as well as an impressive turn of pace in almost scoring what would’ve been our fourth goal, and on Saturday, he went one step further. This felt like a real breakthrough for the eighteen year-old, without a doubt.
When it emerged that Sunderland were working on a deal to bring Bennette to Wearside from his native Costa Rica, there was a mixture of intrigue and scepticism from the supporters, despite his status as an established pick for his national side.
What exactly had we seen in him? Was it a gamble to recruit from so far away when the UK market was a far safer option? Indeed, as the days went by, there were doubts that the transfer would even happen, but eventually it did.
As with any player who takes the decision to up sticks and move thousands of miles from his homeland in order to further his career, Bennette deserves praise for that alone, but with such a move comes a need for patience. Indeed, you would expect that the senior players will be doing everything they can to make him feel welcome and ensure that he becomes one of the boys.
Saturday’s goal will have endeared him to the supporters and he’ll doubtless be feeling the love (a glimpse at social media after the game confirmed that) but this is merely the first step on what will hopefully be a successful career in red and white for him.
After the Watford draw, Tony Mowbray’s post-match comments were as heartwarming as they were eye-catching.
Mowbray disclosed that, due to his lack of English, Bennette simply prefers to say ‘yes’ in training and always goes about his work with a smile on his face. Judging by the photos posted to the club’s social media channels recently, there looks to be a really positive vibe during training sessions, and he is doubtless at the very heart of it.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Bennette will thrive under Mowbray’s coaching.
The combination of a young player who will be eager to impress and a head coach who is fully invested in the club’s ethos could be a winning combination, and there is a historical precedent for this.
I remember an interview with Peter Reid during our 1995/1996 end-of-season review, when he was talking about giving young players a chance despite the stated aim of promotion and the pressure that came with it, and he was true to his word, as the likes of Sam Aiston, Michael Gray, Craig Russell and Michael Bridges all made big impressions as we won the Championship title.
Reid, like Mowbray, understood that these lads would only improve with regular game time, and that you tolerated their occasional periods of inconsistency for what they could bring to the team in the longer term.
It goes without saying that it will not be plain sailing for Bennette during his debut season, and the same applies to many of his young teammates who have moved far from home and into a completely new environment.
Adapting to a new city, culture, and way of life whilst making your way as a professional player is not easy, but I do believe that the environment is perfect for him.
Like many of his teammates, he will go through dips in form as the season, but as he settles into life on Wearside and continues to get attuned to our style of play and what the coaches expect from him, this young talent, who will doubtless star for Costa Rica at the upcoming World Cup, has every chance of becoming a real success story as our new era continues to take shape.