Were it not for a baffling and completely incorrect offside call during Sunderland’s FA Cup tie against Fulham in January, Chris Rigg would’ve given us one of the moments of the 2022/2023 season, as well as writing the kind of fairytale story that the grand old competition has often been known for over the years.
As it was, it sadly didn’t work out that way but the emergence of Rigg, who was born the same year that we celebrated promotion to the Premier League under Roy Keane, was another feelgood story from last season.
At a time when Sunderland are showing such faith in emerging talent, both homegrown and signed from elsewhere, Rigg embodies the philosophy that’s driving us forward, strengthening the foundations, and guiding the club towards what’ll hopefully be a bright future.
With that in mind, it’s a huge boost that the young prodigy has signed a scholarship contract, ensuring that his development in red and white will gather pace and that he’ll continue to benefit from the vastly improved coaching structure that’s been in place since 2021.
Rumours of a potential switch to Newcastle United had been circulating ever since Rigg emerged as a potential star of the future, and it’s great that the speculation can now be put to bed, and that we’ll be able to see him develop over the coming years.
In fairness, despite his allegiance supposedly being tilted towards our black and white neighbours, Sunderland is the perfect environment for a player such as Rigg.
Three or four years ago, he would’ve doubtless been sold at the first available opportunity as the club was cut to the bone in every area, but things have changed for the better, and we’re now able to attract and retain young talent, as opposed to watching exciting players depart for pennies to clubs up and down the country.
There’s no doubt that the entire perception of Sunderland AFC has changed as well. Where once we were something of a graveyard for promising players, we’re now an oasis and in this regard, our record in recent seasons speaks for itself.
After all, bringing a player like Amad to the club was seen as something of a gamble, but through a combination of factors, it paid off beautifully- and it wasn’t by sheer good fortune, either. Throw the likes of Dan Neil and Anthony Patterson into the mix, as examples of local lads who’ve made the grade, and it makes for something very promising.
There’ll almost certainly be opportunities for Rigg to make some first team squads next season (possibly starting with the League Cup game against Crewe), and he won’t be on the books of a club funded by blood-soaked Saudi petrodollars and for whom youth development is likely to play second fiddle to spending big money on foreign imports, so it’s a win-win all round.
One thing we can certainly have faith in is how the coaching staff will manage Rigg, ensuring that he’s allowed to develop at his own pace without being overexerted and that he’s given the space to make mistakes and learn from them.
Such is Rigg’s potential, the fact that Tony Mowbray saw fit to bring him into the fold for last season’s FA Cup ties was shrewd, bold, and well-judged.
It was effectively sending a message to Rigg that said, ‘If you work hard, are willing to listen and learn, and you keep your feet on the ground, you’ll get your opportunities’. What else could a footballer ask for at this stage of his burgeoning career?
It’s that amiable, fatherly approach that clearly played a big part in the club’s decision to opt for Mowbray as Alex Neil’s replacement.
The way he managed many of our young players last season was exemplary, and it’s only a matter of time before Rigg really starts to feel the benefit of the support of a coach who gives full backing to players who earn it.
The phrase ‘one for the future’ is often bandied around when it comes to young footballers, but in Rigg’s case, and given how little nervousness he displayed when called upon last season, his new contract feels like an emphatic show of faith in where he is right now.
It’s great that he’s decided to remain at the Stadium of Light, and who knows, if we get some favourable FA Cup fixtures in 2023/2024, maybe he’ll be able to make up for the disappointment of Craven Cottage and make himself a goalscoring hero in a winning cause!