Duncan Watmore must ensure his footballing education is as rapid as his academic one, if he is to build on his breakthrough season.
Watmore was this week crowned Sunderland’s Young Player of the Year after a campaign in which he has been introduced to Premier League football and netted four goals in all competitions.
Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce has been delighted by the 22-year-old’s impact, yet insists he still has much improvement to make if he is to develop into a first-team regular for the Black Cats, particularly with his decision-making.
And Allardyce has challenged Watmore to demonstrate that he can learn and progress with as much success as he has shown off-the-field after earning a first class honours degree in economics last year.
Allardyce told the Echo: “He needs to learn as quick about the game as he has done with his degree.
“As an academic, he’s obviously done extremely well. If he can find the same level of understanding that quickly in football, then he’ll be very good.
“When I got here, the lads told me that he was a good impact player and had a bit of something that we hadn’t got. Having watched him early doors, that was the case.
“But ‘when and where’ is his challenge – where to do it and when to do it.
“At his early age, he tries to do things in the wrong areas sometimes.
“In the position we’re in, that’s difficult, but we have to allow him that as a young man.
“We have to allow him that learning curve and try to show him as quickly as we can that this is what to do in these sort of areas.
“That gets the best out of your talent then.”
Watmore is one of two members of Sunderland’s Under-21s squad to have broken through into the first-team fold this season after goalkeeper Jordan Pickford started January’s FA Cup and Premier League encounters at Arsenal and Spurs respectively.
However, Pickford is a contrasting character to England U21 team-mate Watmore, with the Washington-born stopper boasting plenty of belief in his own ability – a view shared by Allardyce.
“Pickers is a different kettle of fish,” added Allardyce.
“He thinks he’s the top goalie in the world already.
“As long as that is self-confidence, not arrogance, then he’ll be a top goalkeeper, I think.
“The mentality is there and, at such a young age, to have that is a real bonus for him as a player, particularly in goal.
“He will learn as goes on and his mentality is so, so strong that I think he’ll be a top goalkeeper.”