George Dobson opens up on his Sunderland career so far in typically honest assessment
George Dobson is a player who did it the hard way.
He went against the usual path of good contracts and U23 football at a big club, throwing himself right in at the deep end.
In his West Ham age group, only Reece Oxford looked like they had much of a chance of breaking through.
So followed a first loan and a spell at Sparta Rotterdam, where by his own admission, he wasn’t ready for the culture shock and change of lifestyle.
What it did mean, though, was that when the time came to move permanently to Walsall, he was ready.
Since then, he has never looked back, a player at 21 with a maturity and appearance record well, well beyond his years.
So a sense of persective is easy to maintain.
It has been a bruising few days for a squad rightly criticised for an insipid showing at Lincoln City. The pressure this season is quite rightly immense.
Dobson is relishing it.
“I love playing for a big club,” he says.
“It’s why you play football.
“I was a big West Ham fan growing up, I’d go and watch the away games, there would be four or five thousand of us.
“So I understand the way they’re feeling.
“That’s why, for me, I just enjoy it so much.
“At Walsall, you play in front in four or five thousand, it goes under the radar a bit and you move onto the next game,” he adds.
“Here, it is 30,000 and you sell out every away game.
“It’s a lot of pressure, a lot of expectation, and you just have to rise to it.”
So far, he has made a good fist of it.
Luke O’Nien’s rise after a challenging first few months served as something of an inspiration, though he already has 11 appearances to his name.
It has been a major period of adaptation but now he feels he is starting to settle, and the leasing.com trophy against Grimsby Town offers him a chance to push his claims.
“The training here is just so much more intense and sharp,” he says.
I’m getting used to it now, more and more day by day. At first, the first six weeks I was coming off the training pitch just thinking, wow. This is a step up.
“In the games I feel like I’ve done well, so when I properly adjust to the training it will only push me on.
“I was speaking to Luke when I’d just signed,” he adds.
“He said how he started the first game of the season and then didn’t start again until September, he felt like he’s really struggled adapting.
“I’ve already made 11 appearances, had some good games and obviously some things I need to improve on.
“I’m just trying to impress every time I get a chance.
“Because here you just know you’ve got to play well everytime. The competition is so strong that if you don’t, you’ll get replaced.
“That’s how it is at a big club.
“Last year, if I had a couple of bad games, because it’s a smaller squad and the players aren’t as good, you still play.
“I feel like I’ve adjusted well.
“I’ve made quite a lot of appearances and it’s about just trying to get a longer run now.
“I want to be a big part of results really picking up now.
“This game is just an opportunity for every player who does play to impress.
“With what happened on Saturday, I wasn’t involved so this is an opportunity to prove to the gaffer that I want to be in the team and that I should be in the team.
“Whatever game it is, whatever cup it is, playing is a chance to impress the gaffer and the fans, to prove that you should be playing in the team.
“I think the games I’ve played in I’ve done well.
“I feel like there’s a couple where I could have influenced the game a bit more but I think I’ve played with energy, got on second balls, made tackles, the stuff I’m in the team to do.
“You watch back and reflect on some things, maybe getting in better positions, getting shots on the edge of the box, and times when my passing could have been neater and tidier.”
The last point is a pertinent one.
Stepping up to a club of Sunderland’s size brings an obvious change in pressure and off-field environment.
On it, there’s a very different challenge too.
A pressure on the midfielders to create and use the ball well, in addition to the intensity off the ball that Dobson has already made his trademark.
“At Walsall, say when we play against Sunderland,” he says.
“We come in and sit the ball behind the ball, not touch it much, stick to your shape and counter.
“You get the ball but when you’re a team dictating the play you see it a lot more.
“You’ve got to get used to that more and trying to dominate for larger periods of the game.”
The highlight of his spell so far was without doubt that crunching effort against Burnley, a goal rounding off a display that showcased what had so impressed Jack Ross last season.
It was big moment for Dobson, a player who dropped away from a Premier League club to prove himself.
That night, against a richly experienced midfield, he showed himself and others that he could do it.
“It was me and Dylan playing in there that day,” he says.
“Danny Drinkwater has won the Premier League but it didn’t like there was much in it, I felt like we dominated them.
“It was a massive confidence boost for me, to show that I can perform at that level.
“When we went 3-1 and from 60 minutes onwards, we were picking up a lot on second balls, nicking it high up the pitch.
“Maybe that was because they didn’t have much match fitness, that was probably a reason, but at the same time it was great for confidence.”
The next step is try and nail down one of the midfield spots that have been up for grabs for this season.
For all this visit of Grimsby feels like an inconvenience in the bigger picture, for the likes of Dobson, it represents a big opportunity to try and grab.