Kevin Phillips has urged manager Jack Ross to make the most of Sunderland’s youngsters in League One – depending on which players remain at the club.
The emergence of Joel Asoro, Josh Maja and George Honeyman – among others – was a rare positive in last season’s dire Championship relegation campaign.
And fans are hopeful that the Black Cats’ clutch of promising youngsters can make their mark in League One this season.
So, too, is club legend Phillips, who wants to see former St Mirren boss Ross utilise the up-and-coming members of his squad to help prepare them for life in a higher division in the future.
While the futures of some of the players remains up in the air, there should still be a youthful look to the Black Cats’ squad this term, with the likes of Ethan Robson, Elliot Embleton, Luke Molyneux and Denver Hume all looking to make a mark on the first-team squad.
And Phillips – a coach at Derby County – believes that playing in the third tier is the perfect opportunity for the Black Cats to give their young guns a go.
“They can definitely push on,” he said. “They’re the sort of players that you need to look at. If they can’t get in the team when they’re in League One then what chance have they got of getting in the team in the Championship or Premier League?
“I think it’s a good opportunity to try to use them a lot more.”
But Phillips believes that some of the youngsters may not be at the Stadium of Light for much longer.
There has been plenty of speculation linking the stars with moves away this summer after their impressive breakthroughs.
Yet, while they may leave in the future, Phillips – who recently returned to Wearside in his role as ambassador for the Fans’ Museum as he helped celebrate Monkwearmouth Station’s 170th birthday – believes that Sunderland need to develop them as much as possible while they still can.
“They’re exciting players, and they’re players that you’ve also got to try to keep at the football club,” he admitted. “There will be big teams sniffing around them, as I’ve already read a few times in the press.
“It’s a great opportunity to use them. While they’re still your players, you need to nurture them, coach them and get the best out of them because if you do that they’re a good asset.”
The future of the likes of Honeyman and Asoro remains up in the air, with Sunderland owner Stewart Donald revealing last week that the agents of both players had indicated that they wanted to leave the club.
On Asoro, Donald said: “According to his agent, he doesn’t want to stay and doesn’t like the club because of something that has happened. I need to get the bottom of that.
“I’m hoping that if we iron that out with Joel and he has a good conversation with Jack, then he’ll want to stay.
“Jack spoke to George Honeyman and it was OK, but his agent, Margaret Byrne, said that he would prefer to be a Championship or a Premier League player.”