SUNDERLAND Academy manager Ged McNamee insists the club can produce another Jordan Henderson in the near future – and has cited Mikaël Mandron and Jordan Pickford as proof that there is still a route to the first-team for promising youngsters.
Striker Mandron and England youth international goalkeeper Pickford have both been fast-tracked into first-team training this season, with the former understood to be one of the small number of Academy undergraduates who have been offered professional terms next year.
A French striker with English and Scottish ancestry, Mandron is on the radar of both the English and Scottish FA. Recently Martin O’Neill opted to leave a substitute’s role unfilled at Bolton, resisting the temptation to name one of his Academy youngsters on the bench because he did not want to give them the impression they had “made it” when there is still plenty of work to do.
McNamee knows that life has never been harder for young players trying to break into the first-team but says that there is still huge potential in reserve.
“Within this Academy there are boys with the potential to go right the way through.
“Some of them – Jordan Pickford, the goalkeeper (for example) – he trains regularly with the first team,” he said.
“There’s another we have brought in, Mikaël Mandron, who has been training with the first-team. If the boys are showing that potential and that desire, they will train with the first-team.
“But we’re under no illusion that it’s a hard ask to continue to keep putting players into that system. If you get one or two a year at PL level you’re happy with that. That’s the state of PL football at the moment.
“From a Premier League perspective with regards to youth football, that’s the big push of the Elite Player Performance Plan – to obviously increase the level of boys breaking into first team football. And if they’re not breaking into our team, they will be playing at Championship level.
“Sometimes with Academies they have to go to a lesser club to come back. Look at the boy at Blackpool who is generating a lot of interest, Tom Ince.
“He had to do that and sometimes they need to step back. He wasn’t figuring in Liverpool’s first-team because it was an international squad.”
Although goalkeeper Pickford, who has represented England, is quite well known to Sunderland fans, the name of Mandron is probably less high-profile. He is one of only a handful of Sunderland’s Academy youngsters who have been brought in from overseas.
He is 6ft 3ins and signed for the Black Cats after playing for Boulogne in France. He has scored freely for the reserves and now trains regularly with the first XI.
He said: “He’s done well. He was identified at a small club in Paris, he came in and his English was very good because his father is English.
“He’s settled very well and he was someone that, again, we looked at the matrix and thought we needed a striker so we brought him in. Again, he’s a nice lad, he’s well-mannered and he just fits the profile, so we brought him in. Some years we have very few (academy players) coming in from a distance.”
McNamee also encourages Sunderland’s younger players to use the loan market to propel themselves into the manager’s thinking.
“It’s hard for them. As long as there’s a pathway and the boys feel there’s a pathway that’s the main thing,” he said.
“As long as the senior staff have been exposed to them and can make a judgement on them (it’s fair). Sometimes it’s a case of them going away to come back – Jordan Henderson and Jack Colback have utilised the loan system, used the experience and come back and (then) broke into the first team.
“But it is a small percentage who will join the system at eight years old and go straight into the first XI. It’s quite remarkable that we’ve had so many lads who’ve done that.”