JACK Colback has been promised he will be part of Steve Bruce’s plans next season now the 21-year-old has become a man.
The Tyneside-born midfielder has started Sunderland’s last five matches, and impressed with his quality and determination.
Injuries have forced Bruce to turn increasingly to youth this season. But while he hesitated to throw 19-year-old Ryan Noble into the fray, there have been no such qualms over Colback.
The difference, says Bruce, is physical.
“There’s still a lot of growing left in him,” the Black Cats manager said of Colback. “From the two years I’ve been here, the one thing we were looking at was how he’s physically come on in leaps and bounds.
“He’s now starting to look like a man. That decision with young Noble (not to start him at Bolton Wanderers, or at home to Wolves) was in part down to him not physically developing yet, whereas Jack has. Certainly his recent performances have been exceptional – particularly at Bolton.
“He’s proved to himself he can play at this level and fair play to him. He’ll be part of the squad next year, which is good because he’s got a chance of featuring.”
Colback’s Premier League
debut came at Wolves on the final day of last season, and ended badly. Over-eager in the tackle, he was sent off for two bookable offences 12 minutes after leaving the bench.
That followed a season-long loan at Ipswich Town. He was back at Portman Road this term, after a Carling Cup cameo.
Colback could have been forgiven for thinking an association which began at the age of ten was coming to an end.
Instead, he was brought back in the New Year and, like fellow homegrown midfielder Jordan Henderson before him, seemed to have benefited hugely from a loan spell in the Championship.
“He might have thought a while back his chance here had gone, but not for me,” said Bruce.
“With the young lads, I’m a big believer in letting them go (out on loan) and the year at Ipswich Jack had helped him. He even won their player’s player of the year award.
“He then went back out there again because I believe once a young lad has that type of competitive experience, it’s pointless putting them back in the reserves.
“The experience helped to mature him and he’s used that to get where he is today.
“Certainly, I would have loved to have put him in a winning team but he’s helped us these past couple of weeks with his composure on the ball. He’s proved himself at this level, which is grand.”
What has impressed Bruce the most is that Colback has been undaunted by coming into a team whose fortunes have been on a dramatic downward spiral.
“In adversity he has been the shining one,” said the manager. “I know he can play in the Premier League, very well.
“In a struggling team he has been our best player, so hats off to him.
“Jack has cemented a place in squad and been a big plus. He was terrific again (against Wolves).”
Youth was very much the theme of Sunderland’s squad on Saturday, with all seven substitutes products of the club’s academy, and only two in their 20s.
It was an easy excuse for Bruce to fall back on as his team were beaten 3-1, but he refused to take it.
“I looked behind me and I have a bench of 19-years-olds (Louis Laing and Billy Knott are still 18), which is far too much in the Premier League,” he admitted. “So is having seven or eight first-teamers out.
“But against Wolves, Fulham and West Brom we should be taking more (points) and that is the disappointing and frustrating thing, whoever we have (to choose from).”