The clamour to ‘get the kids in’ is understandable, but is that really what we need right now? More importantly, is that what the ‘kids’ need right now? Gary Foster shares his thoughts.
IS Youth really the answer to Sunderland’s Save Our Season call?
As football fans we’d all love to see our club producing the superstars of tomorrow.
For the most part, once you don those red and white stripes you’re seen as one of our own.
But there’s something extra special about seeing some kid come through the ranks and go onto become a first-team star.
In recent years, those have been in short supply.
Whether that is down to a lack of quality in the youth ranks, a lack of opportunity, or a lack of vision from the management at the time – the one thing that is clear is that our young guns have not really made the transition to the big stage.
It doesn’t seem that long since Jordan Henderson, who, in my opinion, wasn’t always given the credit he deserved while at the club, and Jack Colback emerged from the Under-21s.
Henderson left in 2011, meaning we are now into the fifth season since he swapped the red and white of Wearside for the red of Merseyside – a long time in football.
Colback has of course switched the colour of his stripes, the less said about that the better.
Before that duo, you probably have to back to Grant Leadbitter to find a youth player who became a first-team regular and further back Michael Gray, Martin Smith and Craig Russell were probably the stand out candidates.
For a club that has poured so much money into its youth set-up and facilities that probably has to be seen as a meagre return.
But it seems that things may be starting to look up, and once again there is a clamour to give youth its chance.
With the first-team once again struggling in yet another battle against relegation, the form of the Under-21s has been a rare bright spot in a dark season for fans.
Earlier this week the young guns beat Spanish side Athletic Bilbao to reach the quarter finals of the Premier League International Cup.
And on top of that, they are five points ahead of Tottenham at the top of the Under-21 Premier League table.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that there is call for the youngsters to be let loose on the first team.
Certainly, Duncan Watmore has shown fleeting glimpses in the senior set-up to suggest he may make the grade.
And Lynden Gooch looked exciting going forward when making his League Cup bow.
Others mentioned in despatches include left-back Tommy Robson and centre-back George Brady.
But you have to wonder whether the time is right to give youth its head.
Despite a dreadful start to the campaign, Sunderland aren’t drinking in the Last Chance Saloon just yet, where Premier League survival is concerned.
And putting so much pressure on these young players to achieve success that has so far eluded so many of the senior colleagues (many of who have extensive international and top-flight experience) is asking a lot.
They may of course thrive on it and prove to be the catalyst that sparks new life into our season.
But throwing them to the Lions could do real damage to these youngsters and to our hopes of survival.
I’m old enough to remember Dennis Smith turning to young right-back Paul Williams as we faced Manchester United.
Lee Sharpe led Williams a merry dance that day, and the defender never really recovered.
There is a worry (at least there is for me) that asking too much too soon of our current crop could bring similar disastrous results.
Hopefully, Big Sam will know how and when to give these youngsters their chance to shine.
I’d love to see them come through and have a big impact on the Premier League, but let’s not just throw them out there for the sake of it.
That smacks of panic to me, and no one other than our relegation rivals will benefit from such panic, as far as I’m concerned.