Sunderland have enjoyed a strong first season back in the second tier of English football as Tony Mowbray’s team currently sit ninth in the table after 29 matches.
The Black Cats are two points off the play-off places and could fight for a place in the top six, leading to a chance at promotion to the Premier League, between now and the end of the regular season.
One of the key players in their campaign so far has been academy product Dan Neil. The central midfielder has started 26 times in the Championship and looks set to be the next success to come out of the Academy of Light.
He could be looking to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford, who are currently playing for Liverpool and Everton, respectively, in the top-flight.
Was releasing John Egan a mistake by Poyet?
Sunderland have not always had the best judgement when it comes to youth products as one player they dropped the ball with back in 2014 was central defender John Egan.
Would John Egan start for Sunderland now?
The youngster came through the u18 side and went out on various loans before former manager Gus Poyet opted to release him on a free transfer to Gillingham in 2014.
It only took two seasons for Brentford to swoop in for the defender and Egan enjoyed an excellent spell in London – averaging Sofascore ratings of 7.15 and 7.08 in his two seasons in the second tier, helping his side to keep 18 clean sheets.
The Ireland international won at least 60% of his individual duels across the two campaigns and displayed his colossal quality as a centre-back at that level, just two years on from leaving the Stadium of Light for £0.
In the 2019/20 top-flight campaign, Egan, who was once dubbed a “leader” by journalist Kate Burlaga, averaged a Sofascore rating of 6.96 in 36 appearances as the gem won 61% of his duels and 2.8 tackles and interceptions per outing.
For context, no Sunderland centre-back with more than one appearance in the Championship this season has averaged a score higher than 6.87, which illustrates just how well the Irishman has performed over the years for Sheffield United and Brentford.
Therefore, the Black Cats dropped the ball by releasing Egan in 2014 as they missed out on a big payday with the central defender as well as the opportunity to utilise his talents on the pitch over the years.
They could have benefitted from his colossal performances in the Championship, and the Premier League, and then cashed in for big money – £4m or more – to make him a real academy success. Instead, they allowed him to leave for nothing and have had to watch on as the enforcer is enjoying an excellent career.