Sunderland sporting director Kristjaan Speakman has built an exciting squad full of young players at the Stadium of Light and they are enjoying a strong season in the Championship.
Tony Mowbray’s side are ninth in the table as it stands and sit five points off the play-off positions with 12 matches left to secure a place in the top six.
Whilst talented youngsters like Aji Alese, Amad Diallo, and Anthony Patterson have caught the eye throughout the campaign, a few of the more experienced players in the squad have been among the team’s best performers.
Alex Pritchard, for example, is currently the club’s second-highest-rated player on Sofascore behind Ross Stewart with an average rating of 7.01, although the gem would be third if Ellis Simms had stayed instead of returning to Premier League side Everton.
The attacking midfielder has produced two goals and four assists in 29 appearances for the Black Cats in the league this season but his contract is due to expire at the end of 2023/24.
Pritchard will be 31 by the time his deal runs out and Mowbray may already be thinking about how he can replace the former Norwich and Huddersfield man.
One route the head coach could go down is utilising the Academy of Light to unearth an heir to the midfielder’s throne and U21 star Caden Kelly could be the heir apparent.
Who is Caden Kelly?
The 19-year-old number ten is a former Manchester City youth product who has been thriving in Sunderland’s U21 and U18 sides in recent seasons.
He joined the club during the 2020/21 campaign and played 22 times for the U18s that term – scoring four goals and providing four assists from midfield.
Is Caden Kelly a future star?
Kelly then scored three goals and assisted two in 12 U18 games the following season to earn himself a call-up to the U21s for the first time, where he plundered five goal contributions in 19 appearances.
The teenager has stepped his form up in the current campaign and is on six goals and two assists in 13 Premier League 2 outings for the U21 side, which shows that the youngster is developing and adding more end product to his performances.
Journalist Josh Bunting once hailed the maestro as a “really technical” gem and claimed that the midfielder “can do big things” in the game moving forward.
His progression through the ranks at the Academy of Light and his current, impressive, form for the U21s this season suggests that the wizard is improving and growing as he gains more experience.
Therefore, the young talent could be in a position to take over from Pritchard at the end of next season if the teen can continue to develop and improve in the next 18 months or so.
A loan move for the 2023/24 campaign could allow the midfielder to gain valuable first-team experience and take his development to the next level, which is certainly something worth exploring over the summer with a view to him making Mowbray’s squad the following year.