Jack Ross discusses Bali Mumba's development and best position as he prepares to face Germany
Jack Ross admits it is an ongoing process to establish talented youngster Bali Mumba’s best position.
The 17-year-old began last season in the side as a central midfielder, a consequence of how impressive he had been in pre-season under Jack Ross and also the then ongoing attempt to build a squad for the League One campaign amid much player turnover.
Inevitably, Mumba’s opportunities became more limited as Ross strengthened his options and recruited more experienced campaigners for the promotion challenge.
This season, Mumba has begun the campaign in the U23 setup, partially because he spent little time with that age group in the last campaign and Ross believes it is important for his development.
The Black Cats boss also believed it would help in establishing his best position, with the youngster showing impressive versatility in the first stages of his career.
He has previously said that in the new year a decision would likely be made as to whether to look for a first loan or increase his time in the senior environment.
Interestingly, Mumba has been used as a right-back for much of the U23 season so far, and it was in that position that he completed 90 minutes for England U19s this week as they defeated Greece 3-1 at St George’s Park.
He is likely to feature again today in Haiger as they take on Germany.
“I’m not sure [his best position] at the moment,” Ross said.
“I think it’s a challenge for Elliot and Michael [Proctor] because we’ve had conversations about making sure we identify that and making him the best he can possibly be in that area. I know they’ve been pleased with how he’s performed at full-back recently and he played there earlier in his academy career.
“There’s a trust in them at the moment because they see him a lot more than I do and they’re working a lot closer with him but my opinion of him as a young footballer has never changed,” he added.
“Watching him again in training last week he’s got brilliant attributes and I like him. He’s an asset to the football club and he’ll go on to have a good career as long as he keeps doing what he’s doing because his desire to get better is really good.
“There’s pros and cons to tying him down to a position at this age. The benefit is learning something inside out, the cons are you might restrict his ability and his first-team opportunities. If you’re a midfielder and you’ve got four first-team midfielders at first-team level all playing well it’s really difficult. If you can also play as a winger and there’s only one winger ahead of you, you might get your opportunity.
“Versatility, particularly in the modern game, can be an advantage but equally we have to make sure he learns how to play a position or more than one position well.”
There could well be opportunities for Mumba in the leasing.com trophy this season, international commitments permitting.
Ross admits he was close to being involved in the squad against Burnley for the 3-1 Carabao Cup over Burnley.
The Black Cats are next in action in that competition on September 25th, when they travel to Bramall Lane to face Sheffield United.
Mumba has been continuing to train with the U23s but Ross contines to keep a very close eye on his development.
“I think last season circumstances dictated that he was very much thrown in at the deep end,” he said.
“He trained with me pretty much every day last season.
“He went straight from school so he actually missed out on being involved with a lot of the players around his own age and even judging himself against them. So we made a conscious decision to let him enjoy that but he trained with me last week. He’s not the only one we take over at times, Dan Neil is another young one who comes over.
“He’s still in and around what we do but the bulk of his work is with Elliot’s group and I think that’s important for him because he’s still a very young man.
“Probably the only reason he wasn’t involved against Burnley was positionally. We had a lot players playing in similar parts of the park to him either starting or on the bench.”
Speaking recently, Dickman said that Mumba has much to work on as a central midfielder.
“If you spoke to Bali, I would imagine he would want to play in central midfield,” he said.
“He played there for us in pre-season and did fine in the games and we’ve been pleased.
“That could be his position. However, he does need to improve on quite a number of things if he wants to play in that position.
“Not so much with the ball, it’s more without the ball. From a tactical point of view he just needs to maybe understand a little bit more on where he needs to be, picking up second balls.”