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Fulham v Sunderland: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round

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Sunderland is now a club where young talent can thrive, and that’s a welcome change!

After Dan Neil spoke positively about the club’s ambitions and direction of travel, it’s a very encouraging time for everyone connected with Sunderland, writes Jon Guy

Having a ball. Dan Neil is loving being one Sunderland’s young stars
| Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dan Neil, a lifelong Sunderland fan, has progressed through the ranks at the club and he’s been clear in the media that he believes Sunderland should be the destination of choice for young players.

“I think there’s no better place to be in England than Sunderland at the minute if you’re a young player,” he said recently.

Neil’s had a positive season and has been one of our key players, particularly after the injury suffered by Corry Evans.

It’s clear that 2022/2023 has been a real success for many of the exciting young players we have in the squad, both on loan and who’ve been acquired on permanent deals during recent transfer windows.

Our academy teams are also having excellent seasons and the sight of fifteen year old Chris Rigg making his debut in the FA Cup is tangible proof that the ethos is, ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough’.

Sunderland v Fulham: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay Photo by Richard Sellers/Getty Images

All the signs point to our growing reputation as a home and a positive environment for young and talented players.

The days of watching our best prospects leaving the Academy of Light to join the likes of Leeds and Manchester United look to have ended, but with that comes the threat that many sides are increasingly looking at our young players, given the fact that they’re showing what they can do on a regular basis.

Although Joe Gelhardt’s time on Wearside has not been an unequivocal success, Leeds were more than happy to send him to the Stadium of Light, viewing the club and its ethos as one from which they believed he could benefit.

Amad has also been a revelation following a loan at Rangers where he only showed his ability fleetingly. He’s thrived under Tony Mowbray and he’ll return to his parent club a far more rounded player than when he arrived.

The positive is that if we’re looking for loan signings ahead of 2023/2024, we’re likely to be high on the list for clubs looking to send their players out to gain experience.

Hopefully, given that our injury woes have only been compounded during the international break, there’ll be opportunities for the youngsters to show what they can do.

Moving forward, we need to strike a balance.

We need experience within the squad and while the excitement of our young players has been a highlight this season, we still need players who can guide them through the periods when they’re struggling for performances or results.

Burnley v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship PPhoto by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

The other issue is that we do need to develop talent, as it’s likely that some of our players will be lured to Premier League sides because their financial clout will enable them to make offers that both club and player will find difficult to refuse.

Yes, we’ll have players such as Neil who are happy to reach the Premier League in red and white, but the years to come will continue to be a balancing act as we strengthen the squad and look to build the infrastructure which will allow us to stabilise and consolidate when we’re eventually promoted.


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