'There were big question marks': Tom Flanagan reveals the dressing room reaction when Sunderland signed Callum Doyle from Manchester City
Tom Flanagan admits there were doubts in the Sunderland dressing room when the club signed teenager Callum Doyle – but admits the teenager has been hugely impressive since his arrival on Wearside.
Doyle, now 18, joined the Black Cats on a season-long loan deal from Manchester City and has started nine out of 11 games in League One this term.
Flanagan and Doyle formed a promising defensive partnership during pre-season and have been Lee Johnson’s first-choice centre-back pairing so far.
“Callum is a brilliant footballer,” Flanagan told the Echo.
“I remember when we signed him there were big question marks in the dressing room, I don’t think anyone is afraid to say that.
“He’s 17 and from Man City. Can he head a ball? They don’t really do that much at Man City. He’s stood up to every single test and he’s getting better and better.
“He will have a period out of the team because he’s 17 and that’s what happens but he’s a standout performer, not just in our team but in the league.”
Doyle’s loan deal is only for one year, yet there could be a chance for Sunderland to re-sign the centre-back next summer.
Flanagan hopes a new deal can be agreed but knows the Manchester City defender has a growing list of admirers.
“It will be brilliant if the club can hold onto him after this but I think there’s a long list of people who will want Callum if he carries on the way he is going,” he added.
“They (Manchester City) played Wycombe in the cup the other day and I watched a few bits. Callum could have walked into that team. He is with us and we are very, very lucky.
“I think he is enjoying it and he’ll go back and play under-23s football at some point and think ‘what am I doing here?’ He is playing men's football and will be head and shoulders above the rest of them.
“I think the attitude he has shown to learn the other bits of the game has been brilliant and I honestly don’t have a bad word to say about him.
“He’s a real good character in the dressing room, he works really hard and he’s stood up to every test. It’s a credit to Callum.”
Doyle is set to represent England Under-19s during the international break, and his last Sunderland appearance came during the Black Cats’ chastening 4-0 defeat at Portsmouth.
The teenager came on at half-time, when Sunderland were 3-0 down, in awful weather conditions but still acquitted himself well.
“He came on and no one wants to come on in that game, especially as a defender,” recalled Flanagan.
“As a centre-forward, winger they can change the game, but as a defender they are running around at 100 miles an hour. Everyone is at the tempo of the game and you’re coming on at a standstill.
“It was a tough game and he proved himself in tough conditions against good opponents.”