I was thrilled to see Duncan Watmore and Jordan Pickford in the thick of the action for England U21s this week.
It should be a matter of great pride for Sunderland to have two of their academy graduates involved with the national team at this stage of their development.
Pickford is extremely well regarded in football circles and I know Preston manager Simon Grayson was delighted to secure his services on loan for the season.
He earned praise from Gareth Southgate for two clean sheets on international duty and he’s also catching the eye in the Championship, after spending last season with Bradford in League One.
The experience will do him good; goalkeepers need games to develop not only their skills but also to fine tune their decision making which is such a key part of their make up.
There’s little point him sitting on the bench waiting for an injury to Costel Pantilimon when he could be building his experience elsewhere, gradually stepping up the quality of opposition.
Where once England was flush with top stoppers, now we look around and find ourselves rather short on the ground: only Joe Hart, Jack Butland and John Ruddy have started the season as first choice in the Premier League.
So it’s no exaggeration to say that with a fair wind behind him Pickford could very soon be regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the country
And dare I say it, with interest building from other top English clubs, Sunderland are handling Pickford well; let’s hope his talent comes to the fore in goal at the Stadium of Light.
At Pickford’s age, possessing the right attitude is almost important as ability.
One of the key questions raised by Greg Dyke’s FA Charter last year was why so many players vanish from the system between the ages of 18-21. So many have the talent but are unable to convert that into a career at the top level of professional football; ultimately it seems they are not prepared to work hard enough to fulfill their dreams.
I have no such worries for Duncan Watmore – he strikes me as a young man determined to squeeze every ounce of ability out of his body.
He’s an impressive character: unusually intelligent (as anyone who saw his interview before his U21s appearance last week will testify), mature beyond his years, humble and incredibly focused.
As a player he’s got a lot to do to convince Dick Advocaat he’s ready for the Premier League and though he’s already made an impact in fleeting glimpses I would urge patience with his development.
He reminds me a little of James Milner and Frank Lampard, two players renowned for being incredibly diligent and dedicated trainers, who made the most of their ability to reach the highest level; our own Jordan Henderson too.
Those three are revered by every manager they’ve played under as model professionals and Watmore would do well to follow their lead.
Henderson, you will remember, was sent to Coventry to make his mark before stepping up to the first team and perhaps a similar path might suit Watmore.
Niall Quinn will tell you the loan spell did not phase Henderson in the slightest, he knew Sunderland had no intention in letting him go (at that stage anyway), so he got his head down and worked; his absolute dedication always set him apart, as did his humility.
Some years later after handing him the Young Player of The Year award at a Stadium of Light ceremony, he crossed the room when leaving (before the rest of the players) to personally thank me for coming up from London for the night to host the event: a small gesture which I never forgot.
The sadness is that he had to leave Sunderland to satisfy his footballing ambitions.
Hopefully Watmore and Pickford will feel there is a pathway to progress on Wearside and in them and some of their fellow graduates we can feel there really is light at the end of the tunnel.