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Sunderland struck gold with academy graduate Jordan Pickford

Sunderland central midfielder Daniel Neil has been a regular in the first-team this season in the Championship after breaking through as a regular in the side in the 2021/22 campaign.

The Black Cats academy graduate played 39 times in League One last term, starting 31, and has been in the XI for 13 of the club’s 14 matches in the second tier so far.

He is one of the biggest success stories to come out of the Academy of Light in recent years and will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Jordan Pickford and Jordan Henderson, who could both be in the World Cup squad for England next month in Qatar.

Neil was fast-tracked into the senior squad without going out on loan to experience first-team football prior to playing for Sunderland, whereas Pickford went down a different route during his time at the club.

The shot-stopper went on loan to six different clubs, including the likes of Bradford and Preston North End, before getting his chance at the Stadium of Light.

He was initially promoted to the first team in the summer of 2013, whilst moving on a temporary switch to Burton Albion, and was valued by Transfermarkt at just £135k at the time.

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His final loan was with Preston in the Championship and he kept an eye-catching 13 clean sheets in 24 league matches, which led to his market value rising to £450k.

Then-manager Sam Allardyce decided to bring him back from Deepdale for the second half of the 2015/16 campaign and the Englishman played three senior matches, including two in the Premier League.

An elbow injury to Vito Mannone then afforded Pickford the chance to establish himself as the number one for Sunderland in 2016/17 and he grasped the opportunity with both gloves as he ended up playing 29 games in the top-flight that season.

The monster between the sticks saved 73% of the shots on his goal and averaged a SofaScore rating of 7.04, which was the highest of any player in the squad that term.

Was Pickford worth £25m?





His form caught the attention of Everton and the Toffees snapped the talented shot-stopper up for an initial fee of £25m, following Sunderland’s relegation to the Championship in the summer of 2017.

The Black Cats struck gold with Pickford as they were able to establish a pathway for him via multiple loan spells before offering him the chance, albeit aided by an injury to Mannone, to showcase his quality in the first team.

This led to them making a whopping £25m from his sale, with his value rocketing by 18,418% from the initial £135k he was valued at when he came through the youth ranks in 2013.

Pickford, who was once described as “mentally strong” by Marcus Bent, has gone on to play over 200 games for Everton in all competitions and has been capped 45 times by England.

Sunderland can be proud of the huge role they played in his development as he achieved phenomenal growth in value during his time at the Stadium of Light, with the club certainly hitting the jackpot by bringing him through the academy set-up.