Revealed: The 'squad composition model' that will see Sunderland's youngsters handed more first-team opportunities
Kristjaan Speakman has lifted the lid on Sunderland's new ‘squad composition model’ – that will see young players given more opportunities at the Stadium of Light.
The club’s new Sporting Director offered an in-depth insight into his new role and plans in the latest edition of the #SAFCUnfiltered podcast.
And Speakman, who spent close to a decade as academy manager at Birmingham, is keen to see youngsters handed a chance at the club.
But the key, he says, is ensuring that a passage to the first-team is present while not being ‘too easy.’
"My appointment should hopefully give everyone from a youth development perspective a comfort, because I'm an advocate of young players,” he said.
"I think we have to get the structure and the process right for them to move through and progress into the first-team.
"It can't be too easy, I've seen it be too easy before at previous clubs I've worked at. That looks great, but it doesn't help. I've also seen it extremely hard, and that doesn't help.
"So it's getting the right balance and having the right processes.
"Ultimately, when you have a Sporting Director position it lends itself to managing that much easier because those decisions and that process is led by myself rather than being led by a manager, if you like.
“But at the same time, we have to make sure the manager is comfortable with it.”
Johnson was certainly comfortable in blooding-in young players during his time at Bristol City, and has already handed academy graduates Anthony Patterson and Jack Diamond opportunities during his first week on Wearside.
Together with Speakman, the club’s new head coach has helped to devise a ‘squad composition’ model that will see Sunderland set targets for how many players of various age groups should be included in their first-team squad.
The Black Cats currently have the second-oldest squad in League One – according to data from WyScout – and fans have been keen to see youth involved on a more consistent basis this term.
And while this new model will naturally take some time to implement, Speakman is hopeful that it can lead to a ‘lean, competitive’ squad which is able to provide opportunities to young players from the club’s academy.
“With Lee, we've got a squad composition model that's divided the squad into four age brackets, and we've got benchmarks on how many players should be in each of those thresholds,” he explained.
"It forces us to have to adhere to the plan so you don't get caught off track and it provokes conversation - so you can say, 'if we sign this player, that's another one in our prime category, we haven't got enough in the breakthrough category.'
"At the moment, if you look at the squad, through no fault of the players, there's a lot at the top end and not a lot at the bottom end.
"Over time, it's recruiting and making decisions to get that closer to that model. It's having a lean, competitive squad that gives opportunities to young players.”