Jack Ross on his hopes for Luke O'Nien's Sunderland future after Championship summer interest
Jack Ross hopes that Luke O’Nien can be part of a core of players who have a long future at Sunderland and grow with the club.
O’Nien struggled for regular gametime after arriving on Wearside last summer, but returned as a right-back and was a key figure throughout the campaign.
In recent weeks he has underlined his promise in an advanced midfield role, scoring against MK Dons.
The Black Cats rejected summer interest from the Championship in O’Nien, who is one of a host of players out of contract next summer, though the Echo understands there is an option in the club’s favour to extend for a further year.
Having arrived for a small fee and with extensive experience only at League Two level, Ross believes he is a great example of what can be achieved through hard work and a willingness to learn.
“He’s my type of player, full stop,” Ross said.
“How he trains, his appetite to learn, his work-rate, allied with the fact he’s a good player.
“He’s been brilliant for us.
“He’s great to point to for players in the academy about how far hard work can take you.”
That summer interest was a sign of his improvement and something that Ross hopes this summer’s arrivals, including Jordan Willis and George Dobson, can replicate.
With the likes of Denver Hume and Elliot Embleton regularly breaking into matchday squads, Ross has seen his side and squad take on a more youthful look this season.
“There’s been a huge change in how we’ve had to recruit,” he said.
“It’s a massive difference to the past with the club, by and large we’ve recruited free transfers or low fees.
“It’s about finding the right ones at good ages.
“I think they’re good signings, value for money signings and that’s important for the club.
“I think they could go on to grow with you, hopefully you go up the leagues and they go up with you.
“We had interest in Luke and if I was another club, I’d be looking at him as well because he’s an all-round good footballer whose improvement has been really good and I think he’ll only improve again.”
Speaking to the matchday programme for the MK Dons game, George Dobson admitted that O’Nien was a great example to him as he looks to settle on Wearside and push for more first team minutes.
“When I first joined the club I spoke to Luke,” he said.
“When he joined last year he went through a period when he didn't play in the first few months of the season. Luke made over 50 appearances after not playing the first couple of months and that's great.
“He has given me a lot of points to help me settle in. I've settled really well and I'm just thankful to him because he's been good to me. We come from a similar background in terms of our previous clubs. To then come to Sunderland and deal with everything here, the pressure of playing, the lifestyle changes etc, it really does open your eyes.
"I'm loving everything about this club and to achieve success this season would just be perfect."
Though Ross did ass experienced options to his squad this summer, including defenders Joel Lynch and Conor McLaughlin, he was eager to bring in players who he could improve on the training pitch and who represent good value for the club.
O’Nien’s versatility is proving a major asset for the Black Cats boss, who believes his long spell at right-back has put him in a better position to succeed in his new role.
“He’s a great example of hopefully identifying a player that you can work on and improve,” Ross said.
“They’ve got to have that appetite to improve as well.
“I watch him every single day, his improvement all round, it’s difficult to describe it really because it’s not just about one part of his game, his all-round ability but also the mindset, believing that you’re a good player and that you belong, in a controlled way is a great thing to have.
“He’s improved immensely in that respect.
“There’s a mindset to it as well and a physicality thing,” he added.
“I know people will see that he’s always been competitive but his ability to deal with certain physical aspects of the game has changed with playing at full back.
“The thing about being at full back as well is that the game is always in front of you, so you learn a lot about the game, you see it well.
“If you are someone who thinks about your football like Luke is, then it probably helps you to understand the roles higher up the pitch as well.
“His willingness to take on information and get better is brilliant, he’s a real asset for us.”