FORMER Sunderland striker Marcus Stewart, who correctly predicted Connor Wickham would take years to find his feet at the Stadium of Light, now believes the youngster could be ready to deliver on his undoubted potential.
It was Stewart who sounded a word of warning when then Sunderland boss Steve Bruce beat Liverpool to the signature of the £8m England Under 21 international in the summer of 2011.
Stewart said at the time: “He’s probably worth the money paid for him and more as he comes of age but if Sunderland wants him to do the business next year, I’m not sure that that will happen.
“If Sunderland are buying him to produce the goods from the start then they are asking a lot of him.
“If they are asking him to produce in a few years time in the Premier League, I think he could do that.”
Stewart has been proven right in his prediction with Wickham being a bit-part player regularly farmed out on loan in his first couple of seasons.
But he had a stunning end to the 2013-14 campaign, scoring five goals and torturing the defences of teams like Man City and Chelsea on his way to winning the Barclays Premier League April Player of the Month award.
And Stewart believes that Wickham could now be about to show just how good he is capable of being.
“Strikers come of age at different times,” said the 41-year-old who played for Sunderland from 2002-05 scoring 31 goals in 102 appearances.
“Some strikers mature instantly like Wayne Rooney did - he kicked on immediately and stayed there.
“Others take more time.
“I always felt that even though Connor had shown early, you wouldn’t see the best of him for at least two or three years after he signed for Sunderland.
“I felt he would be 23 or 24 before we started to see the best of him and you have to bear in mind he’s still just 21, still an under 21 player, and hopefully Sunderland will now start seeing the best of him next season.
“I just though the size and mentality of him when he joined Sunderland, I thought he would take time to grow into himself.
“It’s a mental thing more than anything else and I know that, I’ve been there.
“Strikers, you have to give them time, especially young lads, and he had a big price tag on his head.
“He’s a young lad and he’s going to have times when he doesn’t score in games, that’s the way strikers are.
“But I think he’s shown signs of starting to mature as a footballer.
“He’s been churning out the goals and hopefully next year the club will get a good goals return from him.”
Stewart, like Wickham, also made the switch from Ipswich to Sunderland as a player and he says that too will have taken a bit of getting used to for the youngster.
“The fans can be a challenging bunch at Sunderland when you’re not doing well, but when they are going well they are brilliant,” he said.
“You have to deal with those sorts of pressures, both sides of it, and that’s what he’s getting used to now.
“I think he’s dealing with the pressure and he’s now got the challenge ahead of him of having big shoes to fill - those of Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips - and getting goals like they did back in the day.
“But I think he’ll have the mental strength to deal with that as he grows up, it comes with age.
“He’s certainly got the physical strength and I think he’s now reaching the stage where he’s starting to put it all together which hopefully will be good news for him and for Sunderland fans.”