Anyone who’s watched Chris Rigg since he first broke into the Sunderland first team can see that he has a very high ceiling, a remarkable skillset for such a young player, and the potential to become a footballer of immense quality in the years to come.
Indeed, how many times have you had to stop and remind yourself, while watching him, that we’d only just secured promotion to the Premier League under Roy Keane when Rigg was born, and that he’s still almost two years shy of being able to order an ice cold pint of lager?
How different things might’ve been if the linesman’s flag hadn’t cruelly denied him a moment of late glory at Craven Cottage during our FA Cup tie against Fulham last season, but that was only the beginning. He signed a new contract on Wearside during the summer, and the consensus was that he’s currently at the perfect club at this stage of his career.
Rigg has been used quite sparingly at times during the 2023/2024 season, but recent cameos against Leicester City and Norwich City suggested that his rate of improvement is continuing at pace, and he looks to be developing at an impressive rate from a physical perspective, too.
With that in mind, and as if he hadn’t experienced enough highs during the past year, our homegrown prospect has now been presented with a golden chance to make an impact at international level.
Yesterday, it was announced that Rigg had made England’s squad for the upcoming FIFA Under-17 World Cup, to be held in Indonesia.
Consequently, he’ll be out of the running for a number of Championship fixtures which may present Tony Mowbray with a challenge as he attempts to keep his squad fresh, but on the other hand, you’d be hard-pressed to find a coach, a teammate or a Sunderland fan who sees it as anything other than a glorious opportunity for Rigg.
Suffice it to say, England’s age group teams are filled with burgeoning talent and Rigg certainly isn’t alone in being a highly-rated prospect, but he seems to have the maturity, confidence and resilience to handle whatever is thrown at him, and an international tournament in the heat of the Pacific is certain to be something unique.
Furthermore, success at international level can double up as a major pathway towards future success at club level, and a glance at England’s World Cup-winning squad from the 2017 iteration of the tournament highlights this.
Names such as Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Emile Smith-Rowe have all enjoyed stellar club careers in the six years that have passed since we beat Spain to claim the title, and if Rigg can grasp the opportunity and play his part in a successful England campaign, his stock will rise further, benefiting both himself and Sunderland.
So, England have selected a hugely talented player and Rigg will doubtless be determined to repay that faith, but how will his absence potentially affect our fortunes?
As Paddy Hollis wrote yesterday, Jobe Bellingham (another England player with an immensely high ceiling) hasn’t quite been at his best recently after a blistering start to life on Wearside, and it would’ve been great to see Rigg potentially enjoy an extended run in the team, had Mowbray opted to rotate.
Thursday’s squad announcement will thwart that possibility, but thankfully, attacking midfield is an area in which we’re well-stocked.
There are plenty of quality players capable of stepping into the breach, and as Rigg hopefully strengthens his reputation whilst wearing the Three Lions on his chest, we can hopefully to build momentum. enabling him to return with the team in a positive place and ready to kick on over the festive period.
One byproduct of Sunderland’s revival in recent years is that we’re now home to players who aren’t just gaining international recognition; they’re making a huge impact for their country and that’s something that should be applauded.
The coaching standards at the club are higher than they’ve been for some time, and with pathways to the first team open to any player who’s prepared to work hard and improve, regardless of their age, the idea of the Academy of Light potentially developing the young stars of tomorrow is one we can rightly feel excited about.