Sunderland sporting director Kristjaan Speakman has played some blinders in the transfer market in recent years to improve the squad at the Stadium of Light.
The former Birmingham academy chief arrived in December 2020 and played a key role in helping the club to escape League One after four years in the second tier.
He brought in the likes of Ross Stewart, Alex Pritchard, Patrick Roberts and Jack Clarke among others to push the team to promotion under Alex Neil – who took over from Lee Johnson – last season.
One player who he unearthed from relative obscurity was full-back Dennis Cirkin. The defender arrived from Premier League giants Tottenham but had not made his professional debut prior to joining in the summer of 2021.
Since signing for the Black Cats, the England under-20 international has racked up a whopping 49 first-team appearances in all competitions for Sunderland and was recently described as being a “standout” player by journalist Josh Bunting.
Things move quickly in football, though, and you never know when you will need to replace a player. Sunderland may outgrow Cirkin or vice versa in the coming years, and that is why it is crucial to have a steady stream of talented academy prospects ready to step in.
The club moved to improve their youth ranks in the summer by snapping up 18-year-old left-back Connor Pye from League One side Morecambe. It was reported that Premier League clubs were tracking the gem and that the Black Cats view him as a signing for the future.
The youngster’s ability to play centrally in midfield and on the left as a full-back suggests that he could suit the left-sided centre-back role in which the ex-Spurs dynamo has been playing, as he has defensive experience and can play through the middle of the pitch.
Morecambe academy manager Stewart Drummond described Pye as being “influential” for the Shrimps at youth level, and along with the Premier League interest in his services, this suggests that the teenager is a player with the potential to develop into a first-team stalwart in the future.
Mowbray could now look to develop the teenager into becoming the next Cirkin by transitioning him into a left centre-back, or even left wing-back, role at senior level. If the 18-year-old can successfully make that transition and step up to playing regular first-team football, then he could be the heir to that position in Sunderland’s starting XI further down the line.