If 19 year old Connor Wickham thought this would be his season to break into the Sunderland first-team, then he may be sorely disappointed. O’Neill has made it clear that the striker will be sent out on loan, if Sunderland can sign a new forward before the season begins.
Signed from Ipswich, where the highly-rated youngster made 65 appearances as a teenager, Wickham managed 15 appearances last campaign for the Black Cats. With only one goal to show for it – against Aston Villa in March – it would appear that O’Neill does not believe he is yet ready for the Premier League.
However, this does not signal the end of his time at Sunderland, nor does it necessarily prove that he will soon be cast into the ‘where are they now?’ category of young players that never fulfil their potential. At only 19 years of age, there is still plenty of learning left for him to do, and perhaps a loan move to a team that can give him regular football is not such a bad idea.
In fact, in my opinion, it is a fantastic opportunity for Wickham. What Sunderland fans will increasingly start to learn is that O’Neill has favourites, and does not like playing young players. At Villa, the careers of Bannan, Albrighton, and Clark were all put on hold as the Villa boss refused to give youth a chance. None of these players played a single minute whilst O’Neill was in charge, and yet were shown to be more than good enough when played by caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald just three days after his departure.
With this in mind, it can only be good news for Wickham that he will get time to develop on the pitch; based on last season, O’Neill has no intention of fielding him in 2012/13. Pretty much any Championship side would be happy to take him on, and promoted sides Southampton and Reading may both be interested in a player they will have admired during his time at Ipswich Town.
This does not spell the end for Wickham. Probably.
Alex Keble is the editor of www.thechalkboard.org.uk, a website that gives in-depth tactical analysis of the weekend’s football action, offering match reports with statistics, diagrams, and intellectual insight into the modern game. Follow @ak_chalkboard.Like what the TT have on offer? Sign up for more notifications!