Sunderland sporting director Kristjaan Speakman has created an environment for young players to thrive in the first-team at the Stadium of Light in recent years.
In both his recruitment and his managerial appointments, the Black Cats chief has sculpted a squad full of talented youngsters with the potential to grow and develop.
Has Kristjaan Speakman done a good job?
The likes of Jack Clarke, Anthony Patterson, Dan Neil, Amad Diallo, and Daniel Ballard are just a few of the promising gems who have been brought into the side, via the academy or the transfer market, in the last 18 months or so.
However, former Sunderland owner Stewart Donald did not have as much success with youth and one player the former boss had a nightmare with was youth star Sam Greenwood as the English supremo decided to sell the dynamo to Arsenal in the summer of 2018.
Where is Sam Greenwood now?
After 15 goals and six assists in 39 U18 matches for the Gunners, the midfielder signed for Leeds United in 2020 and has enjoyed a terrific time in Yorkshire.
Greenwood plundered 21 goals and six assists in 41 U21 games for the Whites and this convinced Jesse Marsch, who has since departed the club, to bring him into the senior side.
Ex-Leeds forward Noel Whelan once compared him to Southampton and England’s James Ward-Prowse because of his incredible set-piece ability, saying:
“Free-kicks are his forte.
“Immediately you think about someone like James Ward-Prowse and what an unbelievable dead ball specialist he is. When you see the goals Greenwood has scored from set pieces you put him up there on that mantle.”
The retired attacker also lauded the youngster’s “immense” ability and described his free-kick talent as a “weapon“, which suggests that Sunderland could have had their own version of Ward-Prowse if Donald had kept hold of the magician.
Since the start of 2006/07, the Saints man has scored five more free-kicks than any other player in the Premier League (16) and the current Leeds wizard has showcased his quality from deadball situations at youth level for the Whites.
The 21-year-old has also established himself as a first-team player at Elland Road and has made 13 appearances in the Premier League so far this season, starting twice.
He has produced one goal and two assists, whilst creating 12 chances, from midfield – as an eight or a ten – in that time and this shows that the maestro has the quality to make an impact in the final third at the top level.
The dynamo could now go on to become a regular in the top-flight for many more seasons to come at Leeds and his set-piece quality could be a feature of his play, like it is for Ward-Prowse, if the gem can consistently deliver goals from those positions.
Therefore, Greenwood, who was dubbed a ‘free-kick master’ by the Yorkshire Evening Press, could have been an excellent prospect for Tony Mowbray’s side this season and beyond, given that the midfielder has already earned himself plenty of minutes at a higher level.
Ths means that Donald deprived Sunderland of having their own version of Ward-Prowse by deciding to sell him to Arsenal in 2018 instead of convincing the talent to remain on Wearside.