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Tottenham Hotspur Unveil New Signing Jack Clarke

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Finding gems in the stockpile

“Rehabilitating the careers of players like Alex Pritchard and Patrick Roberts has been impressive - but developing younger players is the key,” writes Mike Stubbs.

Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

‘Stockpiling’ is a word that has only gained a place in football parlance in the last decade. It refers to the practice of big teams hoovering up promising young players in the hope that a couple of them may turn out to be superstars. If you are offered the opportunity to sign youth terms for Mansfield or Man City, it seems a no-brainer.

As a volunteer youth team football coach in Yorkshire, I saw young players being picked up by teams like Leeds. Most were simply dropped as they grew into their teens.

My eldest was in the same age group as Jack Clarke, and played against Charlie Cresswell. But, for every Jack or Charlie, there are dozens of others whose dreams of professional football will simply evaporate. Some will play non-league to a reasonable standard, others just fade away from the game.

Even those who make it through the youth ranks face a daunting challenge to establish themselves in the game. Premiership teams scour the globe for new talent, and homegrown players face ever greater barriers to make it at Premier League level.

Sunderland are now ideally placed to offer those just not quite good enough yet for the Premiership a new home. Any aspiring player need only look at the young players who are developing in our squad - Anthony Patterson, Trai Hume, Dan Ballard, Dennis Cirkin, Pierre Ekwah, Dan Neil, Jack Clarke, Aji Alese, Chris Rigg and Jobe are all grasping opportunities that they are unlikely to have been given elsewhere.

Let’s also not forget that Ross Stewart was a relatively unheralded Ross County prospect, before he succeeded Charlie Wyke.

13/07/19 BETFRED CUP GROUP B.ROSS COUNTY v MONTROSE (4-1).GLOBAL ENERGY STADIUM - DINGWALL.Ross Stewart in action for Ross County Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images

When players such as Triantis and Hemir settle, we could realistically start a Championship team without a player over 23.

With just a few weeks before the transfer window closes, Sunderland have yet to bring in any loan players. Whether we bring in a loan player like Amad, or raid Premier League academies for the likes of Cirkin, Ballard, Alese and Ekwah, I suspect there will be more surprises before the window closes. They may not be established names - but that no longer concerns me.

Rehabilitating the careers of players like Alex Pritchard and Patrick Roberts has been impressive - but developing younger players is the key.

Over the last couple of seasons, I have tried to support our younger players by having their names on the back of my replica shirts. Neil, Cirkin, Ballard and Rigg have been my away shirt choices over the last four campaigns - I doubt it means anything to them but it has become a symbol to me of where I want my team to go.

Developing young players will generate funds.

Developing young players will attract other ambitious young players.

And developing young players makes it so enjoyable to sit in the stands, and embrace the moments when our young players absolutely fulfil their potential.

At this point, I could run through the list of disappointments - but you all know who they are. Let’s not go back there.


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