CRAIG Liddle’s appointment as Sunderland’s new youth team coach is just reward for his harrowing trials at Darlington.
That’s the verdict of former Black Cats winger Neil Wainwright, who played for Liddle during the final three months of his spell in charge of the Quakers last season.
Liddle was this week announced as Sunderland’s new under-18s coach after predecessor Kevin Ball was promoted to reserve team boss following the departure of Keith Bertschin to Hull City.
It’s a far cry from the situation Liddle faced at Darlington last season where he found himself thrust into the impossible role of caretaker manager of a club who ultimately ceased to exist in their original state due to financial ruin.
Despite receiving plenty of plaudits for ensuring that Darlington fulfilled their Blue Square Bet Premier programme, the former Quakers youth team coach wanted to return to the day job of working with youngsters.
Liddle was hired by Sunderland during the summer and, after being handled sole charge of the Black Cats rookies, Wainwright is confident the former Middlesbrough midfielder will prove a success.
Wainwright (pictured) told the Echo: “In a sense, going to Sunderland is reward for the hard work he has put in. He deserves this job, which is a cracking one and one that’s ready-made for him.
“I know he was not really keen on first-team management, he was forced into it to a degree.
“He works with senior pro’s well, but he is really hard on himself and takes everything to heart.
“If the first-team loses, he feels it is fault and the pressure piles up.
“But with the youth team lads, it is less about results and more about bringing players on and he gets a great buzz about players improving.
“When I turned up at Darlington last season, I was amazed at the quality of the young lads there.
“With the sort of scouting network the big three North East clubs have got, then Darlington get the runt of the litter.
“But to produce the quality of players that Craig has, it shows it can be done.”
Liddle brought the likes of Boro striker Curtis Main and Fulham duo David Stockdale and Dan Burn through Darlington’s academy system.
But he was thrust into the limelight last season as Darlington’s financial plight emerged within weeks of him taking caretaker charge, following the dismissal of previous manager Mark Cooper.
Wainwright, who spent three years at the Stadium of LIght during Peter Reid’s reign, was signed on a short-term deal in February for a third spell with the Quakers and says Liddle deserves every ounce of credit for his tenure.
“He showed unbelievable character last season,” said Wainwright, currently training with Workington Reds and considering bringing the curtain down on his playing career at the age of 34.
“I know he’s a great friend of mine, but he showed his football spirit. He would have run through walls for people.
“There was so much thrown at him last year and his family seemed to take the brunt of it because they never saw him at home. He was doing four or five jobs at the club.
“I can’t imagine a much tougher job, to be honest.
“I spoke to him before I signed and he told me he was down in Derby with the youth team. He’d driven them down in the minibus and then later in the day he had to take charge of the first team at Mansfield.
“At times there was a lot of frustration among the players and the fans, but he tried to keep everyone on an even keel and instill a sense into the lads that everyone needed to keep working hard to keep the club going.
“It was a unique situation and he came through with flying colours.”