STEVE Bruce is confident Sunderland have got an outstanding talent on their hands as he predicted Jordon Henderson will have an even better second season than his first.
Henderson played 40 first-team games last season, a remarkable number given that he only made his league debut for the Black Cats in the opening day victory over Bolton.
And, while some are worried the England Under-21 international (left) may struggle to maintain the same impact level this season, Bruce is not one of them as he predicted the young midfielder will continue to go from strength to strength.
“He just needs to keep on improving and go again,” said Bruce. “He has come back in pre-season and he looks as though he has grown another inch or two.
“When he came on in our first friendly here against Brighton, he changed the intensity of our performance.
“He has such fantastic energy, as well as technical ability. He has just got to keep on learning and keep his feet on the ground, which he will do.
“Of course the second season is always a difficult one for a young player because teams become more aware of you.
“He is a good kid, though and we’re expecting big things from
him again.” A dreadful World Cup from England’s senior players had shifted the focus on to younger, emerging talent and Henderson is widely tipped to play for the senior side at some point in his career.
Bruce is instinctively protective of the 20-year-old, but he also does not see any reason why someone as good as he is should be held back if it is going to block their progression.
“There is going to be a lot of attention on young England players this season,” admitted Bruce, who has been delighted with the work his players have done during their ten-day stay on the Algarve.
“We’ve got an outstanding one, I can tell you. I wouldn’t be surprised if we go down the German route.
“The German lad Muller had two caps before the World Cup and he stole the whole tournament.
“To be fair to Jordon, he was tired at the end of the season and I probably should have pulled him out earlier if I’m honest.
“But he had a wonderful impact on the team. When we first walked in we thought ‘wow.’ It’s the same now. He’s got a great attitude and he’s a great kid.
“He is Sunderland through and through and he is desperate to do well. The world, at least the football world, is his oyster.”
Although Lorik Cana departed this summer, Bruce – who has been linked with both Stephen Ireland and Michael Carrick – is reluctant to bring in another central midfielder because of Henderson and another exciting prospect, David Meyler, in case it hinders their development.
He explained: “I think I’m okay in midfield because we’ve got Cristian Riveros coming in to replace Lorik Cana and, if I’m honest, Lorik probably struggled with the physical intensity of the Premier League.
“I’m looking to strengthen other areas. I don’t think midfield is a priority. We’ve got Henderson and Meyler, who had such a big impact last season and we’ve also got Jack Colback to come into the squad. I’m impressed with all three of these young boys.
“Jack and Martyn Waghorn have both really benefited from the year they spent away playing regularly in the Championship.
“They have turned into men and we have seen that in all the pre-season games we have played so far.”
He added: “The one thing I have inherited here is a fantastic Academy. We’ve got three or four young lads on the pitch out here who have all come from it.
“And there a more to come through like Ryan Noble, who is playing for the England Under-19s at the moment.”