THE future’s bright for Sunderland. But is it orange? That is the question facing Black Cats chief Steve Bruce as he considers the stirring progress of his flame-haired midfield creator Jack Colback, the latest homegrown talent to make their Sunderland breakthrough.
Colback was one of the few who benefited from the horrific run of injuries that laid siege to Sunderland’s hopes of European qualification, winning over a few doubters in the Black Cats coaching staff in the process.
While there had been doubts about him before he departed for a loan move to Ipswich, they were discounted on a warm, muggy day at St Andrew’s, where Colback displayed how far he had progressed during his second stint at Portman Road.
A tireless worker who really concedes possession, it is the vision and passing precision that Colback adds to the Sunderland midfield that has propelled him into contention next season.
Whisper it quietly, but Bruce’s closest allies began briefing soon after Jordan Henderson’s move that the coaching staff actually believe he is a better player than the £20million England man.
Evidently, it is a confidence that the quietly-spoken Tynesider is beginning to share. Out here in Germany he has made two decent appearances against Arminia Bielefeld and Hannover 96 and a marker has been laid ahead of the big kick-off against Liverpool next month.
Colback will not be satisfied with dropping back to the bench. “It’s a make-or-break season for me,” he told The Journal in the inner sanctum of the tiny Weserberglandstadion that played host to Sunderland’s second tour game.
“I ended the season playing and if I’m going to take a step back now, then it’s not going to be good enough.
“I definitely want to be involved in games. I’m 21 now – not 17 or 18, when being on the bench would be good experience for me.
“I need to be playing Premier League games now and that is what I intend to do. I just need to keep doing what I was doing before. Hopefully I’ll be in the first XI when the season starts now. The goal for me has to be to continue what I was doing at the end of last season. It’s nice to hear that the manager is giving you praise and I will continue to do what I’m doing, keep my head down and go on from there.”
In Colback’s case, others are ready to do the talking for him. While Bruce has a major dilemma on his hands with Colback, Craig Gardner, David Vaughan and Lee Cattermole all fighting over two spots in the centre of midfield, there are plenty who believe the homegrown midfielder did enough to deserve a chance.
Sunderland supporters dreamed up a witty song comparing him to Paul Scholes at the end of last season and there were hearts fluttering when incorrect rumours of a bid from Leicester City began to surface at the start of this week. Like his former team-mate Jordan Henderson, he will not allow new-found fame or fortune to affect him. “I don’t really read too much about what’s being written about me, to be honest,” he said. “I just know how quickly it can go wrong. I just try to get on with it, but of course it’s nice if you have won over the fans and they’re impressed with you – that’s what you want.”
On the subject of Henderson, Colback feels Sunderland have already begun to put the sale of one of their prime assets firmly in the past.
It is certainly not on the agenda at their Barsinghausen base in the foothills of Lower Saxony. Indeed, Colback is almost taken aback when his friend’s name is mentioned – as if the flurry of signings and positive energy rebounding around their training base has wiped out the howls of discontent when he departed.
“I was disappointed that Jordan left because he was a top player and he’ll be a big miss for us,” he said. “But I’m happy for him as a friend and a team-mate that he got a move that shows what a fantastic player he is.
“It’s a big move to a club that have spent a lot of money and he’s cost a lot too. I’m sure he’ll go from strength to strength and make his name at Liverpool now. In a funny way, we’ve already moved on from it with the players we’ve signed. He’s not a Sunderland player anymore, so while I wish him all the best, the focus is on us and how well we can do next season.”
As an ambassador for the club, Colback knows that there’s plenty more talent hidden away in the Academy of Light back home in Wearside. Or not so hidden, in the case of scintillating talent Louis Laing, who has impressed everyone in Germany with his maturity and ability.
Bruce’s latest dispatch suggests that defender Laing may even be kept at Sunderland next season, with a loan move off the agenda – such has been the extent of his recent progress.
“There is a great conveyer belt of talent there,” added Colback. “Louis is a fantastic player – he looks like he’s going to have a future with us.
“He’s always showed plenty of promise and it’s full credit to the Academy, to Kevin (Ball), Ged (McNamee) and the rest of the lads down there. They’ve got a phenomenal record of producing players that shows no signs of letting up really.”