What’s the crack?
David Kent of the Daily Mail reported over the weekend that Tony Mowbray has been impressed by Jack Diamond’s form out on loan at Lincoln City, and as such is considering recalling him from his spell there this month.
Diamond joined The Imps in the summer having had a pre-season with Alex Neil, but has spent no time at all under Tony Mowbray’s wing - a manager who would probably be more likely to give him proper opportunities, I think it’s fair to say.
He’s done very well with the League One side and has become one of their most important attackers, weighing in with eight goals and three assists - not bad for a left winger.
He’s their top scorer this season, and whilst they currently occupy 16th place in the table, Diamond has gained some important minutes out on the pitch that have allowed him to improve and, perhaps most importantly, further establish that he is capable of cutting it when given the chance to play games, even if it is for a team who aren’t always at it.
It’s probably the goals he’s scored that have caught the most attention, and having lost Ellis Simms in recent weeks, plus with the injuries sustained by Elliot Embleton and various other attackers, the possibility of having a match-fit, durable and in-form Jack Diamond to call upon must be tickling the tastebuds of a manager who has no fear when it comes to handing young players opportunities if they’re prepared to work hard and prove themselves.
Is he better off where he is?
I suppose you could argue that the best thing for Jack Diamond - and thus, Sunderland - is to leave him exactly where he is, contributing and playing well to a side who are going to play him every single week when he’s fit.
Lincoln couldn’t afford a player like Jack if it came down to pounds and pennies, so in one sense they’re probably feeling fortunate to have him. Like with Sunderland and Amad, you just have to enjoy them whilst you’ve got them because they’ll be gone soon, sadly.
At Lincoln he’ll play three games a week in a physically and mentally demanding league, in front of some big crowds at places like Pride Park and Hillsborough, and has already shown that he’s got the end product needed to be a force in that division.
But in a week where Sunderland handed a 15 year old his first team debut, Jack Diamond at 22 is running out of time to make it on Wearside. If he’s not ready to contribute now, then he’ll never be ready. Some may argue that he’s playing well in League One because that’s his level, and whilst I don’t agree with that, it’s hard to argue otherwise when we’ve never seen what he can do in the Championship.
Like with Jay Matete’s loan to Plymouth, it could be viewed that the best thing for him is to play regularly elsewhere, and reassess things in the summer. If he carries on scoring goals like he has, he’ll end the campaign with an incredibly healthy total and won’t be short of potential suitors.
Where would he fit in?
Currently we’ve got a fair few options in attack, and I’d say that when everyone is fit our wide and creative options are as good as anyone else in the division.
The problem right now is that we’re missing a number of lads with niggling issues.
Elliot Embleton is set to miss a lot of football having had surgery on an ankle fracture, and given how long it may take to not only rehab that but also get him back in a position where he can play ninety minutes of football, we can’t really rely upon him as an option.
Leon Dajaku is a candidate to leave the club this month and is apparently injured, so we’ll see where that one goes, but if we’re being honest he probably needs to go.
Alex Pritchard largely plays in that ten position when fit, but has struggled in recent weeks to stay on the pitch, and lasted only a handful of minutes when he came on at Wigan.
And then there’s Jewison Bennette, who whilst being clearly very talented is a player for the future and not someone we should hang our hat on right now - he needs time and patience.
Taking all of that into account, I think it’s fair to say that adding another option in one of the wide positions wouldn’t harm us. The question you have to ask yourself is whether we’re best served looking around for a loan or permanent option, or bringing Diamond back.
So... what should we do?
Given the way the club operate, we aren’t going to go and steal a top performer off a side doing well. If we’re dipping into the market to sign a wide player, it’s likely to either be another foreign youth recruit or a loan from a Premier League side - and both of those options come with their risks.
Would recalling Diamond be a worse or less risky option?
Let’s forget he’s a Sunderland player - if you heard we were being linked to a 22 year old left winger from League One who is Lincoln’s top scorer with 8 goals (and three assists), would that excite you or would you want something more than that?
An in-form, fit and firing Jack Diamond wouldn’t come in cold like a new signing would because he already knows the club, the squad and the expectation that comes with playing for Sunderland - he’s been here long enough and that will be in his DNA.
Giving academy graduates proper opportunities is something that’s entwined with the club’s philosophy and DNA, but the big question mark over Diamond in my mind is why at 22 he hasn’t established himself yet. How much more room is there for him to develop?
All players develop at different stages - for every Chris Rigg there are two dozen Jack Diamonds, who have developed slightly later than some of their compatriots and are possibly viewed slightly differently because they didn’t just burst onto the scene as a teenager.
I know that there are lots of Sunderland fans who just aren’t convinced by Diamond, but I’m not one of them. I really like him and have always really liked him, and I think that he’s been unfortunate that he’s not had the chances with our first team that some of our other players maybe have had in recent years.
Every time he’s been sent out on loan he’s proved himself as worthy. No matter where he’s gone he’s scored goals, got assists, shown he’s durable by playing regularly and staying relatively injury-free, and has become a big hit with the fans of the clubs he’s represented.
How big is that step up to playing for Sunderland, though?
I guess we’ll never know if we don’t give him a chance.
I’m not overly convinced that he’s going to be the answer, but given we aren’t really struggling when it comes to our attacking midfielders, I think we can afford to give him a shot.
We aren’t going down this season and the likes of Amad, Roberts and Clarke are contributing.
There’s no real pressure on Jewison Bennette to start delivering any time soon, and Leon Dajaku isn’t good enough. Would Diamond not be a better option than those in the final few months of the season? I’d say so. And I don’t think we’re so desperate to strengthen in wide positions that we have to pay money for someone, because the lads we’ve already got are more than good enough and don’t need replacing.
He doesn’t need another six months at Lincoln, because he’s proven he’s good enough. So let’s give the boy a chance to step it up at Championship level and to push his teammates every day in training, hopefully this time guided by a manager who believes in handing opportunities to young players that have earned their stripes.
By leaving him at Lincoln we’re basically saying he isn’t and won’t ever be good enough, and to me that isn’t fair. He hasn’t had a proper opportunity to show what he can do yet in a Sunderland shirt and if now’s not the time, then when will be the time?
I say bring him back - but only if we are committed to giving him the time and patience he needs to prove his worth. And if it doesn’t work out then we say good luck to him in the summer, and we let him move elsewhere to restart his football career at another club.
That, to me, is the fairest way to handle his development.