'He needs to': Sunderland U21s coach gives honest verdict on Tom Watson's first-team prospects

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Under-21s boss Graeme Murty discusses Tom Watson’s development at Sunderland following the winger’s recent performances.

Sunderland’s under-21s boss Graeme Murty says teenage winger Tom Watson still has lots to learn despite calls for a first-team opportunity.

Watson, 17, has scored in his last two appearances for the young Black Cats in Premier League 2, against Wolves and Middlesbrough, while he was handed his senior debut against Huddersfield in the Championship last season.

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When asked about Watson after Sunderland’s under-21s side were beaten by Middlesbrough, Murty replied: “It’s really interesting because when you look at the headlines Tommy is doing particularly well. But when we work as a developmental coach, there are so many elements we need to help him with to make the transition to first-team football. 

“His headline stats are good, the things that catch the eye are really good. But the subtle nuance of game understanding, how to be effective when you’re playing against a good opponent, those are the things he still needs to learn and we need to help him with. But we never want to take away his explosiveness and his capacity to be clinical.

“He actually took instructions from John Hewitson really well at half-time, in the fact of ‘you’ve tried down the outside, you’ve got the beating of him down the outside. You need to probably access the inside of the pitch now.’ I thought he took his goal really well so kudos to John for that part and well done to Tommy for taking his chance really well.”

Watson, who signed his first professional contract at Sunderland last summer, has recently returned from a hamstring issue, while interim head coach Mike Dodds has recently talked about the winger’s potential.

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Still, Murty says it’s important for Watson’s expectations to be managed at a tender age. “The thing we have to be wary of, as developers of young people, is expectation,” the Sunderland coach explained. “People will expect lots from him, they’ll expect him to be the next Jack Clarke. The kid is really young and he’s got loads to learn. He has some really exciting attributes so we have to make sure we do right by Tommy and his development.

“There will be clamour and there will be noise from the outside. What we really have to be good at is insulating ourselves but also Tommy from it. When young players start to hear that noise about them from the press or online, it’s really easy to lose focus and get frustrated.

“It’s our job, as his support staff, to make sure he realises his plan. As long as we’re clear and we convey it to him, and we’re sincere in what we’re doing, hopefully we get the buy-in from himself and from his family and make sure he understands the pathway we have is something that’s really important to us. 

“Let’s be honest, he’s still a second-year scholar. Getting into the 21s is a big step, playing well in the 21s is a big step, making another step to the first team is something he’s on the journey to. We need to make sure he realises that journey is still ongoing.

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“If he does make the transition to the first team, which we all hope, the journey doesn’t end, because we want him to get better again and continue to grow and evolve. Our job is to make sure we are just really honest with him and supportive with him of wherever he is. He needs to know that when he’s ready, he’ll get pushed as soon as we can.”

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