This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Sunderland fans have been debating their full-back positions for quite some time, so could Bali Mumba be Jack Ross’ secret weapon on the right side of defence?
The Black Cats have started the campaign in “decent” form, in the words of Grant Leadbitter, but they certainly have weaknesses.
One such weakness is the right side of defence, where summer arrival Conor McLaughlin has not impressed the fans, while Luke O’Nien, a midfielder, has never looked entirely comfortable being shoehorned into the position.
And now, Ross has revealed that while he still has total faith in 17 year-old Mumba, he will not rush him into first-team action, and doesn’t actually know his best position yet: “I think last season, circumstances dictated that he was very much thrown in at the deep end.
“He went straight from school, so he actually missed out on being involved with a lot of the players around his own age and even judging himself against them. So, we made a conscious decision to let him enjoy that, but he trained with me last week.”
The gaffer continued to say that there is a “trust” in young players like Mumba and that he is not entirely sure where he will play in the senior squad.
Mumba’s breakthrough last year was remarkable, playing eight times for the first-team in central midfield at just 16 years of age.
Fans were stunned that such a young player was showing out for the senior side, but he eventually disappeared into the background as the campaign went on.
Now though, he has played the first four games of the Premier League 2 season at right-back, before featuring in that same position for England’s Under-19 side during this international break.
The young Three Lions beat Greece 3-1 last week as Mumba was one of just six players to stay on the pitch for the full 90 minutes, playing the entire match at right-back.
His fantastic speed and technical ability, something he showed off during those appearances in midfield, will hold him in good stead as a full-back, and the lack of size and strength that concerned some fans last term will not be such an issue in this new role – it is easier for a lighter player to face a fast, agile winger than to battle for possession in a midfield packed with destroyers and box-to-box players.
Ross seems be waiting for the right moment to throw the teenager back into the mix, and after his admission that he is not sure about his best position, could it be at right-back? It may just be the perfect fit.