EFL Stars Of The Future: Sunderland’s Tom Watson
The Black Cats’ first-team squad and Academy is filled with talented youngsters like Jobe Bellingham, Jack Clarke, Dan Ballard, Chris Rigg among many others. Teenager Tom Watson is looking to follow in the footsteps of Rigg and burst onto the scene and make a name for himself.
Academy Of Light
A new age is on the horizon at Sunderland. A squad mixed with experience and burgeoning youth is looking to break back into the big time. Without doubt, the prospect of hearing the Champions League anthem echo around St. James’ Park is stomach-churning.
Sitting fourth in the Championship after nine games, the days of back-to-back relegations and Netflix documentaries look behind them. It’s not just at senior level growth has flourished with Sunderland‘s youth set up becoming one of England’s best.
Sunderland’s U18’s finished second in 2022/23, just four points off eventual champions Manchester City.
It’s especially good that their youth-centric policy is having an effect on the first team. Academy starlet Chris Rigg became the club’s youngest-ever player in January at 15 years and 203 days. The midfielder looks a special talent and scored his first league goal last month against Southampton.
The likes of Rigg and summer signing Bellingham have taken headlines in recent weeks, but one man who is looking to emerge alongside the pair is 17-year-old winger Tom Watson.
At the club since the age of eight, Watson made his first team debut in March off the bench in a 1-1 draw with Huddersfield Town.
It was a well-earned reward for the teen after some eye-catching displays in Sunderland’s youth set-up. 11 goal contributions across 13 appearances in the U18 Premier League North last season proved central to their title challenge.
It wasn’t just at the top end of the league Watson showcased his talent. The winger made seven appearances for Sunderland’s PL2 side that finished third from bottom and still managed two goals and three assists.
His ability to stand out in a poor side was no fluke. Watson scored eight goals in 19 for the U18’s side that finished 11th during the 2021/22 season. What is more impressive is that he was only 15 at the time.
A major highlight was a brace in a 3-2 win over bitter rivals Newcastle United. Watson scored the winner in added time to secure the bragging rights in the North East.
On the whole, young players normally show inconsistency between age levels. Watson’s ability to thrive in both successful and struggling sides is a testament to his character and shows why Tony Mowbray gave him his first team debut.
Through and Through
Despite being able to play through the middle, Watson is evolving as a left winger. True to his striker instincts, he often drifts into central positions to shoot off his right foot. Watson’s pace and precise finishing along with his character make him an exciting prospect for Sunderland in the not-too-distant future.
The Black Cats managed to fend off interest from Nottingham Forest and Rangers over the summer as Watson put pen to paper on a new three-year deal in September, his first proffesional deal for the club.
His stock continues to rise on the international scene, having already gained five caps for an England U17s side littered with talents like Ethan Nwaneri and Kadan Young.
Following his debut, Watson expressed his surprise and delight to Sunderland.com about getting minutes for the first team after nine years at the club:
“It’s quite surreal, to be fair. I didn’t have long to think about it and process it.
“When it got to 1-1, I didn’t really expect to get on with it being such a crunch game – I guessed it would be more likely to happen if we were two or three ahead, but it was a dream come true.”
This season, Watson looks likely to be a regular fixture in the PL2 side. With Sunderland’s path to the first team as open as ever, the talented forward has everything needed to join the growing line of academy recruits becoming first-team regulars at the Stadium of Light.
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