Pre-season offers Jack Ross the chance to truly find out how Sunderland's youngsters see their futures
For Jack Ross, today will be a day to savour.
He has been in the manager’s post for over a month, but so far he has been unable to do one of the things he loves most about the job. Coach.
Yesterday, he cast his eye over the Under-23 set-up as they made their return. There are a number of those youngsters who he will keep a close eye on in pre-season, with first-team spaces potentially up for grabs.
There are plenty available.
Ross spoke at his unveiling in May of building a blend in his squad that could challenge for League One honours.
It would be a mix of the club’s promising young talent, proven League One performers and probably, some highly-rated players from north of the border too.
On the last two he has made steady progress.
Further inroads are on the way, but, as Stewart Donald outlined when talking of the club’s transfer ‘jigsaw’ this summer, there are some outgoings required too.
On this, the next few weeks should offer some welcome clarity.
Jack Rodwell is inching ever closer to an exit, while early exits at the World Cup for Wahbi Khazri and Bryan Oviedo should put their club futures top of the agenda.
While the fee received for Paddy McNair may be a disappointent to some, a relatively quick resolution is helpful for all.
Others will be harder to shift and, by and large, out of Ross’s hands.
The likes of Lee Cattermole, Didier Ndong and Papy Djilobodji will be harder to shift, but the Black Cats manager can at least be relatively sure that they will not be prominent players for him next season.
When it comes to a group of youngsters who pushed their way into the picture last season, it is harder to be sure.
George Honeyman, Joel Asoro, Josh Maja and Lynden Gooch could all be prominent players in the new campaign, but the noises, particularly from the first two, have so far not been encouraging.
Donald revealed last week that Asoro wanted to leave the club and that, while Honeyman had taken part in conversation with Ross that went ‘OK’, his agent, Margaret Byrne, had intimated that he saw his future at Championship or Premier League level.
In both cases, it would be a bitter disappointment if the word reaching Donald proves to be an accurate reflection of the player’s views.
Neither are anywhere near the final product when it comes to senior football and would surely benefit from another full campaign.
For Ross, it will be a case of trying to convince them that his coaching can help them realise their potential and that, should they sign up for his project, they will be back in the top tiers before long.
Should they decide against it, then they will need replacing and swiftly.
Sunderland, and Ross, will not want a repeat of the scenes last season when players who had openly signalled their desire to play elsewhere were strolling their way through pre-season and even Championship defeats.
That is a tall order, and it will not be lost on the Black Cats boss that, at the moment, he has arguably only a handful of players whose services he can definitely depend on for the coming season.
There remains much work to be done. For now, however, it will be a relief simply to be back on the grass again.
The Black Cats boss believes that only by working with a player day in, day out do you get a true picture of their game and personality.
After weeks of speculation, he should at least be set for some level of clarity in the coming weeks.