Jordan Willis opens up on his Sunderland debut and how Jack Ross convinced him to sign
Once talk of a takeover subsided, Jack Ross knew exactly what he was working with this summer.
He also knew exactly how he wanted to improve the team that could had come so close to promotion last year.
He spoke of strength and pace. As a manager whose happiest place is on the training ground, working with players with plenty of room for growth is always welcome, too.
Jordan Willis was the perfect match and even if Ross had been working with a large transfer budget, the Coventry City defender would still have been near the top of the list.
Willis could have moved to the Championship but Sunderland were too big to turn down, the 24-year-old moving safe in the knowledge that he has a manager determined to play and improve him.
“The stature of this club, to play in front of this many things week in, week out, I couldn't turn it down,” Willis said.
“Then the manager and the coaching staff, they made the point to me that they progress players and that's what I wanted. They improve players and that's what I wanted, and I also wanted to be part of the journey to get this club back to where it deserves to be.
When I first came in I sat down with the manager and went through a lot of things,” he added.
“We spoke about stuff and I was really impressed by what he showed me and what he was saying and then we spoke again on the phone, and I was really impressed again. So that was a massive reason that I came here.”
Willis impressed in his short cameo against Benfica B, given a tall order in containing the frighteningly quick Rodrigo Conceicao but coming through it largely unscathed.
The pace with which Willis attacked the ball stood out, as did his power in the air. He has an impressive leap and wasn’t beaten once.
It’s easy to see after last season’s struggles why Ross identified him as a player who could make a big difference this season.
“My attributes are being quite athletic, good in the air, good spring, so hopefully I can bring that to the pitch,” Willis said.
“I think my debut went well. It was good to get back into the swing of things.
“It was tough in the heat but it's 45 minutes in the tank and I'm ready to go again. I missed a week of training but I was keeping myself as fit as I could be, so by the start of the season I'll be ready to go.”
Willis has only been training with the Black Cats for a week but looked comfortable enough in Sunderland’s new look back three.
That flexibility is something else that appealed to Jack Ross, given that Willis has also played plenty at right back in his career to date.
Given that Conor McLaughlin is equally comfortable playing in a number of different roles across the defence, Ross has seen his options grow considerably.
“I've done it before [a back three] a couple of seasons ago, I haven't played it in a while so it took me five minutes to get back into the swing of things but it's definitely something I'm comfortable with,” Willis said.
“I started off at right-back and then filled in there when needed, so I'm more than happy to fill in [wherever].”
Willis is settling into life as a Sunderland player after spending his entire career at Coventry City, right through the academy ranks.
As of yet, there has been no initiation song, with Benji Kimpioka showing his talents on Max Power’s instagram earlier this week.
Willis knows his moment is coming, though.
“There've been a few [songs] but I kept my head down, I'll go later in the week,” Willis said.
“Benji has got a good voice to be fair, I won't be quite up to that standard! I'll have a good go. It's been really good, the lads have been brilliant, the coaching staff as well, and it's obviously made it easier having Lee here as well.”
Willis’ debut drew praise from Jack Ross, who was impressed with how quickly he settled in.
The centre back will start again on Saturday against Os Belenenses as he continues to build his match fitness.
“Jordan missed the first part of pre-season so he’s playing a little bit of catch up but I’m pleased with how he’s done.
“He’ll start again on Saturday as we get more minutes into him.
“You can see he’s someone who is athletic, really good in the air, and brings that pace. If you look at where we were as a squad and what we needed within it [he brings it].
“I think recruitment wise we’ve done well so far, we’ve been patient and every addition we can pleased with at the moment.”