Sunderland abolish “rubbish” policy on developing homegrown talent

Sunderland U21 pair Rees Greenwood (centre) and Ethan Robson
Sunderland U21 pair Rees Greenwood (centre) and Ethan Robson
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Sunderland’s promising youngsters will now train with the first-team on a regular basis, to give them the best chance of making the grade.

The rise of Duncan Watmore over recent weeks has been one of the few positives for Sunderland this season after the forward has emerged through the club’s ranks, albeit he arrived from non-league Altrincham at 18.

More and more 21s will be introduced to the first-team squad and hopefully they can stay there

Sam Allardyce

But Watmore and fellow England Under-21 international Jordan Pickford – currently on loan at Preston – have been among few success stories coming through Sunderland’s academy since the productive crop of Jordan Henderson, Jack Colback and Martyn Waghorn.

The chances of rearing homegrown talent have not been helped by successive Sunderland managers leaving the club’s U21 squad to train separately, unless there has been an injury crisis.

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce – the Black Cats’ former Director of Youth during the Peter Reid era – has branded that policy as “rubbish”.

Allardyce believes Sunderland’s promising youngsters will only improve if they are exposed to a first-team environment, either by training at the Academy of Light or heading out on loan.

“There’s no doubt that training with the first-team brings you on and brings you to a better level, as long as you can handle it,” said Allardyce, who appointed ex-U21 boss Robbie Stockdale as his first-team coach.

“Since I’ve been here, it appears that Duncan can handle it and we’re starting to bring one or two more youngsters up.

“There’s been a tendency here to have 25 senior pros, keep them together and not bring the Under-21s in.

“That’s rubbish for me.

“I want to see the 21s get among the first-team players because if we can’t get them out on loan, that’s the only way to develop them.

“The loan system has shut down, so the players who are still here need some development.

“More and more 21s will be introduced to the first-team squad and hopefully they can stay there.

“Duncan has managed to do that. Is there anybody else that can do it?”

Sunderland have been noticeably more pro-active in sending youngsters out on loan since Allardyce’s arrival.

The Black Cats were hesitant to let rookies enjoy temporary stints down the football pyramid last season; believing they were better-served by training and playing with the U21 squad.

But Mikael Mandron, Martin Smith, Dylan McEvoy and George Honeyman all moved to League Two or non-league prior to Thursday’s emergency loan deadline.