Whilst Sunderland have been struggling lately, two of their home-born academy graduates are excelling at the highest level of English football.
Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford starred in England’s 1-0 victory over Holland in Amsterdam, with the Liverpool midfielder captaining the Three Lions and the Everton goalkeeper producing a clean sheet.
Before shining in the Premier League, Sunderland hero Kevin Ball trained the pair in their early years during his role as Sunderland coach and still remains in contact with both.
Speaking to The Times, Ball said: “I like to watch the games and then speak to them. I’ll give my opinion, for what it’s worth, and it will always be positive.
“After the England game, I’ve had messages from people saying, ‘You must be proud’ and the honest answer is a massive yes.
“All you’re wanting is them on the plane to Russia, so when they play with that calmness, that assurance, it gives them a great chance. With Jordan, the ability and focus was always there.”
Pickford recalled: “I can’t remember what I did wrong, but at one point Bally put me on jobs for two weeks – the boots, balls, games room, everything. It had to be done perfectly. He wouldn’t let you get away with it.”
Ball heavily praised Pickford for his willingness to learn through his early stages at Sunderland.
“He didn’t want to just bob along,” Ball said. “He needed challenging. If it was too easy he would get frustrated.
“Representing our club is daunting, but he had already experienced playing in front of crowds, fighting relegation, trying to get into the play-offs.
“I remember leaving home at 16 and found it horrendous. It’s only when you start dealing with it that your career settles down, you start doing better. It makes players grow up.”
Pickford’s use of the ball is a big advantage over other English goalkeepers, with Ball revealing Pickford used to play as a defender in training.
Ball said: “We used to play him at centre back so he understood what it was like for a keeper coming for crosses over the top of other players.”
Ball believes that Henderson will be helpful for Pickford. He said: “He (Henderson) has that real focus, that mature head on young shoulders”.
“When you look at the position we’re in, the city, not just the club, should be very proud of them.”