SUNDERLAND striker Connor Wickham will have a close season chance to catch Paolo Di Canio’s eye when he takes part in next month’s UEFA Under 21 European Championship in Israel.
The 20-year-old was yesterday named in Stuart Pearce’s 23-man squad for the finals, a squad which included Spurs’ Danny Rose, who spent this season on loan at the Stadium of Light, and Sunderland Academy product Jordan Henderson, now at Liverpool.
Henderson, who has shown signs of maturing at Anfield this season, is likely to captain the squad, while for Danny Rose it is a chance to put himself in the shop window ahead of a potential permanent move to Sunderland.
But it is Wickham that Di Canio will be paying particular interest to as he moves to reshape his squad this summer.
The striker, an £8m signing by Steve Bruce for Sunderland in 2011, has yet to justify that fee since moving from Ipswich Town as one of the brightest young prospects in the game.
He was playing for the Under 21s at the age of 17 and with comparisons being drawn between him and a young Wayne Rooney, he had caught Liverpool’s eye before Sunderland acted decisively.
Bruce said at the time that he did not expect any immediate return from the 6ft 3ins striker - that Wickham had been signed as one for the future.
But he barely featured before Bruce’s sacking in December 2011 and featured even less under Martin O’Neill – though niggling injuries played their part in his selection under both managers.
He has started just seven league games for Sunderland, been a sub in 20 more, and scored just one goal in that time. He had a brief loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday earlier this year, during which he scored one goal in four starts.
But although that record is far from eye-catching, at junior international level Wickham’s record is genuinely impressive.
He scored eight goals in 10 appearances for England Under 17s, one goal in four for England Under 19s and has five in 13 for England Under 21s so far.
He has played his part in helping Pearce’s players reach this summer’s finals and will hope that he can have a good tournament personally in order to play his way into Di Canio’s plans for next season.
Within days of his arrival, the Italian head coach spoke glowingly of Wickham’s physical attributes as a target-man striker before the youngster picked up a calf injury.
But he was less impressed by Wickham’s performance on his return this week as a second half substitute against Southampton.