Why Joel Asoro could be Sunderland’s secret weapon this season – starting with Manchester City away

Sunderland's Joel Asoro
Sunderland's Joel Asoro
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Pre-season for supporters is all about getting that first glimpse of the big summer signings and seeing how their team is shaping up ahead of the new campaign.

For Sunderland fans, the lack of new players on the tours to France and Austria meant it was the same old first team faces looking to impress new boss David Moyes.

Interest, therefore, instead turned to the next generation of players looking to make their mark.

And there was one stand-out name. Joel Asoro.

Despite his tender years, the 17-year-old certainly made his mark during the week-long stay in Evian-les-Bains.

Sunderland’s plush five-star hotel overlooked the stunning Lake Geneva but it was lightning-quick Asoro that made a striking impression.

He scored and provided an assist against Dijon and impressed from the bench against Stade Nyonnais, Montpellier and then against Borussia Dortmund, in Austria, adding spark and movement to the forward line.

Hailing from Sweden, Asoro was a man in demand before eventually signing for Sunderland last year, with Manchester United and City, Chelsea, Juventus and Everton all after him.

Possessing quick-feet, composure and a clinical finish, Asoro also isn’t afraid of making a challenge, despite his small frame.

Asoro, who scored seven goals in 14 appearances for the Under-18s last season, could be the surprise package for the Black Cats this season from the subs bench.

One thing’s for sure, he has one of the best managers in the game when it comes to giving younger players a chance.

Moyes, then manager of Everton, handed Premier League debuts to Wayne Rooney, James Vaughan and Jack Rodwell at the age of just 16, while Ross Barkley and Victor Anichebe made their competitive debuts at 17.

As Moyes said himself: “I’ve given five or six players their debuts at 16 in the Premier League. If the opportunities come around, I’ll have no fears in putting them in.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Dortmund draw, Sunderland announced the signing of Papy Djilobodji.

The first opportunity for fans to see him in action will be Manchester City away on Saturday teatime - the opening day of the new Premier League campaign.

And Asoro is set to be named in the same matchday squad.

Former boss Sam Allardyce, along with Paul Bracewell and Robbie Stockdale, made a point last season of involving the younger players in training at the Academy of Light, in warm-ups before big games at the Stadium of Light, with several getting game time too.

Moyes looks set to follow a similar path; good news for the next batch looking to become squad regulars like Jordan Pickford and Duncan Watmore.

As so many have found out before, the step-up from the Under-23 league to the top flight can prove an overwhelming and daunting one.

But Moyes has at his disposable a core of promising players, with the likes of midfielders Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman, right-back Josh Robson, left-back Tommy Robson and winger Rees Greenwood catching the eye, alongside Asoro.

Seb Larsson, one of a number of senior pros impressed, believes they will reap long-term benefits from playing such a big role in Sunderland’s pre-season programme.

“I think we have a very good group of young lads,” Larsson told the Echo.

“It is fantastic for them to come on these trips.

“I remember when I was a youngster going on the first team trips, you learn a lot, try and look at the older players, what they are doing.

“You notice the differences. The boys are very talented, very good and hopefully they can push on and become more and more involved the longer the season goes on.

“You need these experiences though, it is a big step up from the Under-21 football to the first team.

“This can only be good for them.”

The raw talent and potential is there but only time will tell whether Asoro & Co have what it takes to establish themselves in the Sunderland first team long-term.

Under Moyes, though, they will certainly get the opportunities to shine.