Robbie Stockdale says Sunderland will do everything they can to give the academy’s best young talent the platform to shine, but says it will be down to the players themselves to take that chance.
The Black Cats have been boosted by the breakthrough of a number of youngsters in recent weeks, with four academy graduates playing a key part in last week’s 1-0 win over Hull City.
Stockdale has played a key part in their development during his time on Wearside and says there are plans in place to try to keep producing first-team players.
He said: “It has always been the case, if they’re good enough they would get the chance.
“Certainly this year, we wanted them to be part of it and that drips down to the academy. So the U23s on Tuesday night [against Leicester] was a young team – we’re trying to mould that into an U19 team, if we can, so they get an experience of older football.
“We want to get the U16s in the U18s and, if they’re good enough, the U23s. That’s the idea, filter the better players, if you like, and test them quicker.
“We’ll be sending players out on loans, too. Max (Stryjek) has just been to Accrington – it didn’t quite work out for him with an injury, but he’ll learn from it.”
Stockdale also said that the influence of Sunderland’s senior pros will be crucial to helping the youngsters establish themselves in the first team, just as it was when he came through the ranks at Middlesbrough.
He said: “My breakthrough was a cup game on the Tuesday night against QPR for Middlesbrough.
“Bryan Robson told me the day before I was in, which didn’t help me sleep!
“But then, and this is the high and lows, on the Saturday I was cleaning the boots.
“What is important, and it was exactly the same with me and Boro, is that the younger players come into an environment with really good senior pros.
“Nigel Pearson was my captain. (We had) Robbie Mustoe, Steve Vickers. They lead the way and you follow – it is still the same now.
“The distance from the U23 room to the first-team room at the Academy is maybe 50 steps. That is the hardest 50 steps any player will ever make.
“They think they’re closer, but it is the hardest to take.
“You have to embrace it. I always remember Curtis Fleming saying (advice) to me. We were battling for the right-back place and an Argentinian came in for a trial. Curtis said to me, ‘come on, he’s not taking our place’.
“That’s the mentality you’ve got to have – people always want to take your place. Sometimes it can lift the senior players too, because you feel that extra responsibility to the players next to you.
“We had Colin Cooper in yesterday. He works with the England U21s and so he came in to see Jake (Clarke-Salter).
“Jake said to him: ‘I’ve learned more about defending playing alongside John O’Shea in two games than I have in any amount of junior football’.
“The senior pros have all been in that situation and you really do remember those chats you have, those little bits of information.”