The last few years have been a turbulent mess at the Stadium of Light and only now are Sunderland beginning to see a glow at the end of the tunnel.
They are in their third year in League One but with Stewart Donald and Phil Parkinson gone, more savoury times are emerging. Kyril Louis-Dreyfus has talked a good game since arriving and alongside Kristjaan Speakman, there is an encouraging view for the future.
Lee Johnson is engineering positive results on the pitch too. They sit in the playoffs and are in the Papa John’s Trophy final.
Though, there are still problems, particularly in terms of the club’s academy. Louis-Dreyfus has spoken of the need to reinvigorate Sunderland in that department and after everything that’s happened in the last few years you can hardly blame him.
The club’s U23 side failed to win a single game last year and have witnessed a host of their top stars being poached. Josh Maja is the most high profile of them, a striker who is now scoring goals in the Premier League for Fulham.
Though, they have also lost the likes of Sam Greenwood, Bali Mumba, Luke Hewitson, Morten Spencer and Logan Pye.
Greenwood and Maja have arguably been the most successful graduates to leave but another is now proving why Sunderland should have so much regret about the way they’ve treated their academy.
That happens to be Joe Hugill. The teenage striker left the Academy of Light behind last summer for a measly fee of £300,000 to Manchester United. That’s looking like a bargain after the impact he’s made at youth level for the Red Devils.
The 6 foot 2 forward netted six goals in four games for the U18s before earning a swift promotion to the U23s. His form has been mesmeric since, bagging ten strikes in 14 matches and being nominated for the January Premier League 2 Player of the Month.
For a glimpse of what he’s capable of, he scored four goals during their U23s recent win over Liverpool. A tricky forward with a strong physical presence, he’s already been compared to Harry Kane in his short career.
You can see why too. Hugill’s first touch is graceful while his finishing ability is ruthless. The 17-year-old has been superb for Man United but he’s quickly looking like one that got away for the Mackems.
After all, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer already has Hugill on his radar for a first-team debut saying: “If we go from that game [vs Liverpool], I’d pick Joe Hugill.
“Four goals by Hugill, he’s a top striker as well, we’re looking forward to seeing his development.”
It will be of utmost importance for Louis-Dreyfus and co to ensure incidents like this don’t happen again. They cannot afford to neglect the academy further.