Sunderland’s first team has seen plenty of comings and goings in recent weeks, with our squad already starting to demonstrate more depth than it did back in May.
Faith in youth has been a key factor in our success, with several top performing players having once been part of our academy.
Not too long ago, the old regime would sell promising players seemingly at the first offer they received. It felt like there was no effort to build core squads at Under 18 or Under 21 level, and both sides suffered as a consequence.
However, the past few weeks has seen a number of talented academy players being offered and subsequently signing new deals, keeping them firmly involved in the youth setup and on course to be part of the senior squad further down the line.
Harry Gardiner, Michael Spellman, Ben Middlemas, Marshall Burke, Oliver Bainbridge and Harrison Jones have all put pen to paper on new contracts within the last week, and Chris Rigg has also agreed a two year scholarship at the club.
Perhaps the most eye catching of these new contracts was that signed by Rigg.
The midfielder enjoyed some first team action at the age of just fifteen last season, but was heavily linked with a move to Newcastle. At various points towards the end of 2022/2023, this move had an air of inevitability to it, but alas, he’s opted for at least two more years on Wearside- which proves he has good taste!
It’s promising to see the core principle of developing young players not just being used when signing players from elsewhere, but also to put the academy front and centre.
Our first team has youth on its side, and will continue to do so even with the likes of Danny Batth and Corry Evans as part of it, but it’s obvious the club want to keep this going.
By keeping a strong core of Under 18 and Under 21 players, we’re showing that we want to keep a settled youth academy who, through a high level of coaching, will be ready to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Anthony Patterson, Dan Neil and Lynden Gooch by breaking into the first team.
It’s worth noting that our Under 18 squad has a winning mentality.
The side finished second in their division last season, only behind Manchester City, which compliments the academy very well. With some of these players remaining at that level and others possibly making the step up, we’ll have players moving in the right direction across the age groups.
We’ve already evolved into a club where young players want to move to, and the window so far has shown that this is continuing.
The likelihood is that a number of however many arrivals follow the likes of Jobe Bellingham and Luis Semedo through the door will also be under the age of twenty one, and hopefully there’ll be plenty of healthy competition from any youth players who are given the nod to make the step up.
The EFL rule change of allowing nine players to be named as substitutes for 2023/2024 is also going to be of huge benefit to Sunderland.
The opportunity to blood academy players who are on the cusp of the first team will now be even greater, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more squad appearances by the likes of Rigg and Spellman.
First team matchday experience within a club which gives youth more opportunity than many other sides in the division is surely vital for all involved.
Sunderland’s future looks bright, both at first team level and within the age group teams.
Anything which bolsters our academy, which the new contracts for half a dozen players will certainly do, is a success for the club and the new way we’re doing things.