Since Wayne Rooney broke into the Everton first team aged just 17, dozens of players have been played up as being the next big thing to break through in English football. Some players, such as Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere have made the grade and become Premier League players, but plenty more have hardly been heard of since their youth days.
Connor Wickham arrived at the Stadium of Light from Ipswich Town in the summer for a staggering £8million that will eventually rise to £12million depending on appearances. There were rumours that Liverpool may be interested in the English striker, but Steve Bruce got his man and Wickham has made 9 appearances so far this season, scoring once.
With lots of interest in the youngster over the past few years, you would think that we had a superstar on our hands, matching Rooney’s young talent and breaking straight into the Premier League with a bang. But this has not happened so far at Sunderland and it may be time for people to stop talking about the young lad and actually give him a chance to prove himself.
The Hereford-born striker made his professional debut just 11 days after his 16th birthday and has played and scored for the England Under 16’s, 17’s and 19’s as-well as recently featuring for Stuart Pearce’s Under-21’s. But I feel that there is already too much pressure on Wickham at a very young age and that could be the reason for him not making it as a world class footballer in the future.
The tag of a future England star is going to be especially hard for a striker as they are going to be judged on their goal-scoring record and very little else. It is especially hard for a youngster; similarly to Walcott; who was sold for a large price and thrown into Premier League football. Walcott took three years to really adapt to life in the big time and that may be a learning curve that Wickham will go through in the next few seasons.
Putting a £12 million price- tag on an 18-year-old is ludicrous and he would surely have benefitted from staying in the Championship and becoming a prolific striker at that level, before making the step up. If a player does not play well for a long period of time, if he does not score anywhere near enough goals, can it all be blamed on his age? Should he be there if he is too young in that case?
Sunderland supporters were beginning to warm to Wickham before he got injured at Old Trafford two weeks ago and when he returns from his spell on the sidelines it will be time to start scoring goals and putting critics like myself to shame.
For a player that has only scored 16 career goals, surely it is fair to say that he has not played up to expectations so far in his short career, but Wickham has time on his side without doubt, there are not many out-and-out young strikers coming through at the moment and there is a chance for someone to break into that mould to lead the line for England, something that must be an aim for the former Ipswich striker.
It is unfortunate that so many youngsters are hyped up before they have actually proved their worth in men’s football. Players such as John Bostock and Freddie Sears were built up as being the future of English football when they were breaking through their respective youth systems, but they have failed to produce. It is time for youngsters to get a chance to show what they can do before multi-million pound transfer deals and expensive contracts are drawn up, otherwise more and more players will fall flat on their face in the top division and disappear from the limelight.
Before accepting large wage offers and splashing the cash on new cars and houses, is it unrealistic of me to expect a player to focus more on football than the lifestyle? Perhaps, but time will tell if Wickham made the right decision.
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