Why Manchester United youngster's Wearside return will be bittersweet for Sunderland

Wednesday evening will mark something of a bittersweet moment for many of Sunderland's academy staff.

Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 6:00 am

Joe Hugill is expected to line up in Manchester United's U21 side for the Papa John's Trophy clash at the Stadium of Light, underlining his rapid progress in the North West.

Hugill became one of the country's most in-demand youngsters when thriving as a 16-year-old in Elliott Dickman's U23 side, and was snapped up for a six-figure fee.

It was a bitter blow given the number of players who left in that period, and Hugill's rapid development has continued since then.

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Former Sunderland youngster Joe Hugill in action for Manchester United U21s

Hugill has regularly trained with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's group, and played a significant part in pre-season training.

That is a source of significant pride for those who oversaw his development, and there is no ill-feeling that he opted to pursue such a major opportunity once sanctioned by the club's then hierarchy.

Dickman says his focus has to be on those who have come through the academy since, many of whom impressed in the opening game of the group at Lincoln City last week.

Though United will be missing players to international duty, they will feel a strong side in which significant investment has been made.

"We're not quite sure exactly what kind of team they will put out, other than that they must be U21 with three over age players," Dickman said.

"Like ourselves they have players away on international duty.

"We know Joe very well and it'll be a fantastic moment for him if he plays being a Sunderland supporter, but from our point view we want to keep him quiet.

"He's a really good prospect.

"In an ideal world, Joe stays here and is part of what we're trying to achieve here at Sunderland.

"That's not the case and we wish him well.

"He's got really good family support behind him and he's at a good club. It is a little bittersweet but from our point of view, it gives someone else an opportunity. Look at Will Harris, he's come into the U23s and played against Lincoln City last week and did well.

"If one door closes then another door opens for another player, that's how you have to think about it.

"We wish Joe the very best of luck and as long as he doesn't score on Wednesday night, it's all good!"

Though Francis Okoronkwo left to join Everton this summer, the hope is that a new regime, with an added focus on integrating the academy with the first-team set up, will help prevent more departures like Hugill's in the future.

"The pathway and the development planning in the academy has always been good," Dickman said.

"At the end of the day, those types of decisions go above ourselves. It would be the board who make that kind of decision on whether a player goes or not.

"If you ask any coach or member of staff in the academy, they would all have said that they wanted Joe and some of these other players because they have talent that we want to nurture.

"But we've got good players here and that’s our focus, to do everything we can to continue their development."

Full back Logan Pye, who joined Manchester United shortly before Hugill, could also be involved on Wednesday night.

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