The story of Newcastle United 'target' Chris Rigg's remarkable Sunderland rise

There were two threads that came together as Chris Rigg, not 16 until next June, was handed a remarkable call-up to the Sunderland bench.
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The first was a numbers game - Sunderland had been hit by a multitude of injuries and then additionally in the illness bug in the days before their 1-1 draw with Blackpool. At one point they had only six players in training at their Carrington base in the North West.

Rigg, alongside 16-year-old Tom Watson and the recently recalled from Hartlepool United Ellis Taylor, helped bolster the ranks and offer cover in case of further issues.

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"I never want to put a bench out at such a big football club as this with only five or six players on it - it smacks of small club, really," Mowbray Tony Mowbray explained.

"I think we should always be thinking of encouraging youngsters, enticing them to see that they are not that far away from our first team, so it was good to bring young Riggy up and put him on the bench. If we'd been 4-0 up there was every chance he might have got on the pitch, but it was a tight game and it wasn't really the day for him to come on."

And this is the second thread that almost handed the 16-year-old his debut - he's there because he really is good enough.

Rigg was the star of the side that won the U15 Premier League Floodlit Cup last season, an outstanding achievement for a then League One (albeit Category One) academy. He has pushed on quickly this season to the U23 group, with only injury preventing him making even more appearances.

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He has featured regularly in his England age group (like the immensely talented Watson) and has even captained the side, and as such he has a queue of Premier League sides eager to sign him. No one is more keen than Newcastle United, and there is an emotional pull to that prospect. As Rigg is not yet of an age where he can sign a professional contract, the Black Cats are vulnerable. They would in all likelihood be unable to compete with the top Premier League clubs financially.

Chris Rigg in action for England U16sChris Rigg in action for England U16s
Chris Rigg in action for England U16s

What they do hope and genuinely believe is their unique selling point is that they can offer a genuine pathway to the first team, and that is at an increasingly high level.

It's a tale that says much about Sunderland's rebuild, and their determination to stop the drain of talent that took place under the previous ownership. The U23 group was badly affected by that, but the next generation is richly promising and the U18s are flying impressively high in their league.

Sunderland are trying to show that they are a club on the up, who can offer regular game time at a good level that can then lead to players building a top-level career. The point being - you can expect moves like this one to be made whenever realistically possible.

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Only time will tell whether Sunderland will be able to convince Rigg and his family that Wearside is the best place for his development, but the club are trying to show that they are serious in drawing a line under one of the most disappointing aspects of their League One era.