SUNDERLAND chief executive Margaret Byrne says the club’s new indoor training barn is the “final piece of the jigsaw” in bringing the next generation through the Black Cats’ ranks.
The FA’s director of football Trevor Brooking joined Sunderland owner and chairman Ellis Short in officially opening the £3million indoor facility at the Academy of Light last night.
Sunderland have been looking to build a training barn since the plans for the academy were first put in place more than 10 years ago.
And with the facility now shielding the youngsters on Sunderland’s books from the inclement winter weather, Byrne believes it can play a key role in the development of the club’s prospects.
Byrne said: “It’s such a great day for the club, it’s the final piece of the jigsaw in everything we’re trying to do for youth development and bringing players through to the first-team.
“I’m massively proud that we’ve made it and we’re eventually here.
“With Ellis’ support, as the owner of the club and with his backing, we knew we would get here.
“Once we got the planning approved, the next thing was to get it all built as soon as we could.
“There’s nothing now to get in way of training – it will continue regardless of the conditions.”
Sunderland’s first-team are yet to train on the artificial pitch and will only use the barn in an emergency, with the facility primarily designed for the players in the academy.
“First and foremost, it’s for the academy. It’s an academy facility,” added Byrne.
“But if conditions are severe, the first-team will be popping in.
“It’s time-tabled from first thing in the morning until nine or 10 o’clock at night.”
In his role with the FA, Brooking is understandably keen for a greater percentage of English players among Premier League teams.
And the former West Ham midfielder believes the training barn will inevitably give Sunderland a helping hand in their quest to unearth those looking to follow in the footsteps of Jack Colback and Jordan Henderson.
“I came through a club in West Ham where they developed a lot of homegrown talent,” said Brooking.
“You have a passion for the club and a desperation to do well and the fans have a relationship with you because they know you’re local. I can’t overestimate how important that is.
“Let’s say there are four or five homegrown players in a few years time for Sunderland. That would be massive.
“That’s what we’re trying to get to and an indoor centre is key for that to get the numbers we need.
“In the months from November to March, you never quite know without a facility like this, whether the actual programme can happen.
“You turn up, it’s raining and blowing a gale, and you’ve got little youngsters sitting there shivering and not really taking in what the coach is saying because they’re cold.
“That has always been a challenge in the English game and an indoor centre is absolutely key.”