Sunderland boss Jack Ross has hailed 16-year-old Bali Mumba – and says he is forcing his way into his first-team thoughts.
Mumba was one of the stand-out performers in Sunderland’s first pre-season friendly against Darlington on Tuesday, outshining his more experienced colleagues in midfield in the 1-0 defeat.
The teenager made his first-team debut as a late substitute in the last game of the Championship season against Wolves, and Ross says Mumba could force his way into contention for the new season despite his tender years.
“The biggest positive (against Darlington) was Bali,” the Sunderland manager told the club website.
“At 16 years old, he’s really forcing himself further and further into my thoughts.
“We have to be careful because he’s still a boy, but he’s a really good player and I thought he handled himself and acquitted himself really well.
“I was aware of his reputation and abilities before I came in, but you don’t really get a feel for the players until you start working with them day in, day out.
“That’s a process that is still ongoing at the moment, but he’s really impressed me in training and when he played in Portugal, albeit in a training game, again he was really good.
“There was a physicality to the game (on Tuesday) which was challenging, but I thought he coped with it really well and I thought he got better throughout his time on the pitch.
“It’s really encouraging for us because, at 16, and in normal circumstances, we probably shouldn’t be considering him to be in and around the first-team squad.
“But he’s there on merit at the moment.
“If he continues to develop as he is, the likelihood is that he’ll be around the squad and that’s great for him.
“It’s a great opportunity for him and it’s good for me because he’s producing positive performances.”