Sunderland rookies can make grade in Premier League, says O’Neill

Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill
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MARTIN O’Neill believes Sunderland’s young prospects have what it takes to become fully-fledged Premier League players.

But he says that whether or not they do so, is entirely down to them.

The Sunderland manager took a youthful squad to South Korea last week after deciding to rest six international players and losing others to injury.

In all, 10 members of the 23-man squad who flew out to take part in the Peace Cup, could be classed as rookies.

Jordan Pickford, Ben Wilson, Billy Knott, Louis Laing, John Egan, Ryan Noble, Adam Reed, Craig Lynch, Blair Adams and Roarie Deacon all made the trip.

And eight out of the 10 were involved at some stage in the two games played 12,000 miles away.

But all of them impressed the manager who was able to get a closer look at the club’s younger players in relaxed circumstances.

He told the Echo: “I’ve enjoyed watching the young players train and play and it was great to get the opportunity to do so.

“I’ve been with them for quite a few months now, since Christmas-time, and it was nice to be in that environment over in South Korea, particularly with them working with the first team.

“I always had it in my mind that the Peace Cup would be a chance to see some of the younger players and the players who didn’t get to play that much football last season and, in the event, it proved to be exactly that.

“I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen and in terms of them going on be Premier League players, I don’t see why not for many of them.

“I’ve always been under the belief that if you’re good enough, you’ll eventually come through if you’ve got the willpower and desire.

“And I don’t see why that should be any different with this young bunch of players.”

What the manager is keen to point out, though, is that there will be no favours from him on account of their youth – he will only give them a first-team start if they earn it.

“I’ve always thought one or two of them looked very promising, but it really is up to them now to start delivering and to start to press for a place,” he insisted.

“We’ve got a number of pre-season games coming up, which will be particularly important for this group of young players.

“I’m beginning to get to know their ability pretty well now, but they really need to be showing me that they deserve to be in the side.

“And to do that, they’ve got to be showing up impressively in the first-team squad.

“It really is entirely up to them.

“They watch the football, they experience these things, they know what they have to do.

“They’ve seen it first hand, what the challenge is, working with the first-team players and they will get their opportunity – but only if they show they’re good enough to deserve it.”