Ex-Manchester United youth spreading his wings at Sunderland ahead of Middlesbrough derby
Donald Love had been at Manchester United since the tender age of eight '“ but he knew this summer was the right time to spread his wings.
The 21-year-old called time on his 13-year association at Old Trafford when he agreed to head to Wearside alongside Paddy McNair on a four-year deal.
David Moyes and Sunderland have given him the opportunity of more regular first-team football.
And while he concedes it was a wrench to leave a club as big as Manchester United, his focus is now on establishing himself at Sunderland.
A short three-month spell on loan at Wigan Athletic in League One last season gave him a taste of “men’s football” – as he calls it – and playing in the pressure cooker of the top flight is an opportunity he dreamed of as he made his way up through the youth ranks at United.
From playing against the likes of Walsall, Colchester and Swindon 10 months ago on loan at Wigan, Love was thrown straight in against Manchester City’s stellar line-up of superstars last weekend.
The full-back had to contend with David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Nolito on his Sunderland debut.
A daunting job for any young defender and it was no surprise he looked nervous for the opening 20 minutes. He grew into the game, ending with a superb block right at the death.
In the end, City triumphed 2-1, but it gave Love a taste of the pressures of the Premier League.
And that pressure gauge will crank up another notch or two in the coming days ahead of the visit of North East rivals Middlesbrough on Sunday lunchtime.
Love made his first-team debut for United in February at the Stadium of Light, of all places, coming on as a half-time substitute for Matteo Darmian.
The noise inside the stadium that day made an impression on Love, with Sunderland beating United 2-1.
“I can’t wait for the derby on Sunday,” Love told the Echo. “I remember coming on at the Stadium of Light for Manchester United last season and the atmosphere inside the stadium that day was unbelievable.
“I’m sure the fans will recreate that noise and we can get a win. If we can get the fans behind us in the first 10 minutes and then get on top of them, it is a game you just want to beat them – win the game.
“It is all about winning now, this is men’s football,” added versatile Love, who is also comfortable in midfield.
Love, who became the 250th graduate from United’s academy, concedes it was tough leaving behind the surroundings he had known since childhood.
Now, though, he is looking to grasp his opportunity on Wearside.
“It was very hard, but you have always known it is time to move on,” added Scotland U21 cap Love.
“I have got to the age of 21 and really want to start playing games regularly. Hopefully I can come here and do that at Sunderland. My loan spell last season introduced me to men’s football.
“It got me out there – you have to make yourself known – and it was good for my development.”