It’s hard not to love this Sunderland team at present.
The team is full of creative, attacking quality, and there’s an array of young stars finding their feet and growing week on week. The individual progression they are all showing is even more exciting, and it leaves you wondering just how far this team can go.
Since Kristjaan Speakman’s arrival a couple of years ago, Sunderland AFC has become the perfect home for young talented footballers who have either lost their way a little, or who are at a crossroads in their career.
For many reasons (not always of their own making), players can lose their way in an industry that is ruthless and cold-hearted. Sunderland are using the pitfalls experienced by these players to their advantage – offering them a new home at a big club – itself rehabilitating and recovering from mistakes of the past.
Simply put, it is a win-win situation for both player and club who can work together on a joint goal of returning to the Premier League.
It is almost a year to the day since Patrick Roberts joined the club after a short spell in the French league with ES Troyes AC. At that time, then-manager Lee Johnson cited the magnitude of Roberts’ signing - while also suggesting the player needed to be nurtured after a couple of poor loan spells
Patrick is a player that we have always kept our eyes on over the years because he really is a top talent. This is an amazing opportunity – for him and the club – to give him the love he requires at a standard whereby we think he can excel and then come with us to the next level.
He thrives on the big occasion and the beauty of Sunderland is that there is a big occasion every three days.
We hope that this is the place he calls home for a number of years.
A year on, the signing of Roberts is one of the many success stories under the new regime.
During last Sunday’s win, I was enthralled and excited at every moment the ball was at the Londoner’s feet. His foot was a magnet for the ball, and he and Amad were integral to every attack.
The link-up play between the two is simply scintillating. They appear to be on a wavelength that many other Championship players could only dream of being on.
In short, they see things that other players do not see - and how lucky are we that they are both playing for us.
Roberts’ eventual arrival at Sunderland came after a journey that took in a number of clubs around the UK and Europe – with varying levels of success.
Before he turned up at Sunderland, it was in the colours of Glasgow Celtic where I’d seen him play most. And it was his best spell too. He appeared to love his time there. Playing under a manager like Brendan Rodgers likely suited him – his return of around 15 goals and 15 assists (online figures vary somewhat) reflected his creative ability.
After this, spells in Spain, France and at Norwich and Middlesbrough left Roberts constantly chopping and changing clubs without garnering much success at any of them. The Manchester City way of loaning young talents failed to really benefit him.
His career was at a crossroads, and after an unsuccessful spell in France his next club move was vital. After taking time to get to match fitness, Roberts finally settled into the Sunderland side in League One - but it has been the appointment of Tony Mowbray that has been a catalyst in the current form of our creative number 10.
Mowbray seems to find himself endeared to the type of player Roberts is - the low centre of gravity, creative magician that can change the game in an instant. Since his arrival at the club, the head coach has talked up Roberts publically, calling him one of the best players in the division and a ‘Premier League talent’ while also citing the need to put an arm around his shoulder.
I find it hard to understand how Patrick Roberts was in League One.
Something must have happened in his life or his career, because his talent is Premier League. And Jack Clarke is a potential Premier League talent.
Managers can’t teach Patrick Roberts to skip past players like he does, stick the ball through people’s legs and then bend it in the corner, but I can teach him about his positional play and how hard he has to work and I can drive him really tough.
If he’s 25 now, Patrick, he’s potentially got five, six, seven, years if he wants to get to the Premier League.
If he is the best player on the pitch every week and then the phone rings, why would you stop someone going off and earning money that you can only dream of. I see my job as to inspire young men, really, to help them get better.
In my eyes, Mowbray is the perfect man for this squad of players. It seems to me that we have struck upon the right coach at the right time for the club.
He understands how to deal with these young talents - and hopefully, with their improvement - the club will continue in the right direction.
His keenness to be able to connect with these players strikes me as someone who understands the importance of man-management in today’s footballing world.
I’m fully aware of my own abilities, I’m not Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp, but I can connect with human beings and young guys and try to help them fight and work hard and understand positions on a football pitch.
With quotes like that, it bodes well for the future of this club - and its players. At present, Patrick Roberts is in the form of his life.
With a manager like Mowbray over him, it appears that he finally could have found the perfect home for him to showcase his talents.