Elliot Embleton's new deal at the Stadium of Light can be a building block to a brighter future for Lee Johnson and Sunderland
It goes without saying news of Elliot Embleton’s new long-term deal with Sunderland is positive.
Embleton has had to earn his stripes in recent years to be given an opportunity on Wearside - an opportunity he looks to be taking this season with the 22-year-old featuring in nine of the Black Cats’ 10 League One games.
After years of service to the club as a young boy growing up in the academy, finally it looks like another of ‘Sunderland’s own’ is primed to make it a success in the first team.
And Embleton’s new deal not only represents a reward for the Durham-born midfielder’s hard work, skill and talent - both in the here and now and potentially - but it also represents a step in the right direction for the club.
While relegations and missed promotions have inevitably caused dismay among a fanbase who have been battered and bruised over a number of seasons, the failure, and at times neglect, to show both the academy and its players the care and investment they deserve has been a real kicker.
Joe Hugill, Logan Pye, Sam Greenwood, Bali Mumba and Francis Okoronkwo are some of the standout names of Sunderland’s enviable conveyor belt of talent to have left the club in recent years and it is an area supporters have been keen to see stop.
Although Embleton may be further down the line with his development than some of those who have left the club, the deal to keep him on Wearside for the next four years at least demonstrates that Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Kristjaan Speakman are acknowledging the thirst for the Black Cats homegrown talent to remain at the club, with a clear pathway into the first team.
Of course, things aren’t yet perfect. Despite coming devastatingly close to a return to academy football’s top flight last season, Sunderland’s U23’s are struggling this term.
But in a complimentary way that may be down to the fact stars such as Embleton, Dan Neil, Josh Hawkes, who is continuing his development in League Two with Tranmere Rovers this season, and goalkeeper Anthony Patterson are all now involved within first team football.
Recruitment during the summer also shows encouraging signs with Johnson targeting a selection of talented youthful prospects such as Dennis Cirkin, Niall Huggins and Callum Doyle, and Embleton’s deal indicates this is the long-term future for Sunderland. This is how they’re going to build the club back up going forwards.
Whether Embleton’s full potential is achieved on Wearside over the next four seasons remains to be seen.
But having starred when out on loan with both Grimsby Town and Blackpool in recent years, Sunderland fans have been right to question why they have not seen enough of the versatile midfielder.
And one thing this long-term contract can be for Sunderland is a building block.
Teammate Neil has already displayed his promise while transitioning into the first team this season with a number of highly polished performances. Surely he will be next in line to be sat down with the pen and paper if the Black Cats are to continue to evolve.
No longer are these players the stars of the future for Sunderland, they are the stars of the here and now.