There is nothing quite like seeing an academy product come through the ranks of your club all the way to become a regular starter in your first team. Luckily, at Sunderland - thanks to our academy - we have seen many players pass through and achieve this honor, both in the past and present.
The likes of Jordan Henderson, George Honeyman, and now Anthony Patterson have all accomplished this feat - just to name a few.
In the case of Henderson, the midfielder went on to have a magnificent career at Liverpool and internationally. He is now 32 years old, and whispers of him making a return fail to dissipate.
Another player who made the breakthrough at the Stadium of Light was Jordan Pickford. Not only has he gone on to become a prominent figure at Everton in the Premier League, but he is also now the undisputed number one for England over the past few years.
On this day six years ago, Pickford took a further step in his career when he left us for Goodison Park in a big-money move.
After making a significant contribution through numerous loan spells, Pickford returned from a loan spell at Preston North End with his sights set on the number one jersey at Sunderland.
At that time, Sam Allardyce was the Sunderland manager, and he had no qualms about throwing him in for his full league debut against Tottenham only weeks later. Unfortunately for Pickford, it was a day to forget, with Sunderland losing 4-1. However, the goalkeeper played a huge part in ensuring the scoreline was not worse.
With Sunderland securing their Premier League status in dramatic circumstances, Pickford had the opportunity to solidify his position as the number one goalkeeper in the league. Under the stewardship of David Moyes, he made 29 appearances and impressed immensely, despite Sunderland’s struggles.
According to Premier League stats, Pickford ranked in the top five for the highest number of saves, punches, and most saves inside the box during that ill-fated season. Once again, his performances did not go unnoticed, and it didn’t take long for the big clubs in the Premier League to start showing interest in the Sunderland goalkeeper.
With clubs like Arsenal, Manchester City, and Manchester United linked to him, he eventually joined Everton in a deal worth around £30 million.
Feelings were mixed on Wearside regarding the sale of Pickford. It was probably inevitable that he was going to leave the club upon relegation but some felt that £30 million may have been a little low for such a high-quality young talent - which can be argued to be the case.
Sunderland CEO Martin Bain stated that the target was to produce more talents like this over the next few years which in hindsight is quite a comical statement given his performance at the club.
Our aim is to produce more players of the calibre of Jordan in the future.
His development is testament to our academy set up and its hard-working staff, past and present, who identified and nurtured his exceptional talent.
Upon joining Everton, Pickford stated his pleasure at joining the club and his eagerness to solidify as the main man between the posts at Goodison Park.
It’s great to sign for the club.
Last season was my first in the Premier League so to get this opportunity with Everton now, to be able to go forward with my career and show everyone what I can do with Everton is unbelievable.
It’s a great club, a massive club and I think it’s a great opportunity and the right time for me to come to Everton and show what I can do.
And that was that. The short-lived love affair between Pickford and Sunderland was over. It is easy to forget that he only really spent one season at the club as a regular senior player.
One hopes that in the future he will return when we are a regular Premier League team - but at the same time, let's try to hold on to our man at the moment!