Lee Johnson sends this clear message to Benji Kimpioka as he looks to kickstart Sunderland career
Lee Johnson has urged Benji Kimpioka to 'prove a point' as the youngster looks to kickstart his Sunderland career.
The 21-year-old has resumed training with the U23 group after returning from a 28-day loan at Southend United, and could be involved when the Black Cats face reading on Monday evening.
Kimpioka's time at Southend proved to be challenging, with the Swedish youth international making just two appearances.
It was a club in disarray, struggling for results near the bottom of the National League and with fans in open revolt against the Chairman.
When Kevin Maher replaced Phil Brown as manager, he unsurprisingly opted to bring in his own loan additions and as such, did not look to extend Kimpioka's stay.
Kimpioka also had a spell on loan at Torquay United last season, and has found senior opportunities on Wearside limited.
The forward has had little first-team gametime since scoring against Coventry City in November 2019, and has not made a senior appearance since signing a new deal last summer.
Johnson says he is eager to see a 'great lad' succeed and added that he sympathises with the youngster's situation.
But he also made clear that he will have to step up if he harbours ambitions of breaking through into the senior group.
"I think he's got a bit to do, if I'm honest," Johnson said.
"We'll do everything we can to support him but I think he's stepping into a period in his career and his life now where he's got to grow up in terms of that maturity on and off the pitch.
"He's a great lad, a really, really good kid.
"Everyone is so enthused about him as a person and so wants him to do well.
"But there has to be a stage in his life where he kicks in to being an elite professional. If he does that, he has got a great chance because he has got some really great opportunities.
"Something has got to change that pattern at the moment, to be able to really fulfill his potential," he added.
"And listen, it's been tough for Benji. He's a long, long way away from family and probably the upshot in his performances and future that he expected hasn't happened as quickly as he would have hoped.
"Nothing is fatal or final in football, he's got a lot that he can do and in every minute, in training and in games, he has got to show and prove a point.
"Football at the moment has probably shown him that he has got to improve."
Kimpioka's long-term future looks uncertain as a result, with the talented forward in the final year of his current Sunderland contract.
The Black Cats will be managed at Reading by a combination of assistant head coach Michael Proctor and head of individual player development Mike Dodds, following Elliott Dickman's departure for Newcastle United U23s.
Sunderland are expected to run a thorough process before appointing a replacement, with external candidates set to be considered.