WITH three goals in as many games for Sunderland's Under-21s, it would be natural to assume highly-rated Tommy Watson is knocking on the first team door.

But Graeme Murty has stressed the importance of the Black Cats looking beyond the headlines and only moving the 17-year-old up when the club's coaches know he's ready.

There's excitement surrounding Watson, who made his first team debut under Tony Mowbray last season, and has twice been named on the bench for Championship games this term.

But Murty says Sunderland and Watson need to "insulate themselves from the outside noise", and while the club's head of professional development phase doesn't doubt the forward's talent and impact in and around the opposition box, he says the youngster has a lot of learning to do before he hopefully goes on to become part of the first team furniture.

Watson continued his fine recent form for the Under-21s with a goal in Monday night's defeat to Middlesbrough at the Stadium of Light, but afterwards Murty warned: "It's really interesting because when you look at the headlines, Tommy is doing particularly well but when you work as a developmental coach, there are so many elements we need to help him with, to make that transition to first team football.

"His headline stats are good and the things that catch the eye are really, really good. But the subtle nuance of game understanding, how to be effective when you play against a good opponent, those are things he still needs to learn."

Watson doesn't turn 18 until October so has plenty of time on his side and Murty has stressed the importance of the club, the player and those around him having eyes on the bigger picture and the long-term future.

"The thing we have to be wary of as developers is expectation," he said.

"People will expect lots of him, they'll expect him to be the next Jack Clarke and the kid is really young, he has loads to learn.

"He has some really exciting attributes but we have to make sure we do right by Tommy in his development.

"There will be a clamour and noise from the outside but we have to insulate ourselves and Tommy from that. When young players start to hear that noise being generated about them in the press or online, it's really easy for them to get frustrated and lose focus.

"It's our job as his support staff really to make sure he realises his plan. As long as we're clear and convey it to him and we're sincere in what we do, hopefully we get the buy-in from himself and his family and those people around him, and make sure he understands the pathway we have is really important to us.

"We want to continue his development, not just to the next level, because he's still a second year scholar. Getting into the Under-21s is a big step, playing well for the 21s is a big step, making the next step to the first team is something he's on a journey to, so we need to make sure he realises that journey is still ongoing."


For Murty and all of Sunderland's coaching team, there's a balance to be struck with Watson in his development - to make sure he retains his strengths while also improving and polishing other aspects of his game.

"We never want to take away his explosiveness and his capacity to be clinical," said Murty.

"Our individual learning programme for the players is key. They have to sit in a room with staff and come up with targets to develop, stats, footage to back things up. Tommy's individual part is he wants to be more involved without the ball and more impactful defensively.

"We know he has impact with the ball going forward; he wants, for his own development, to be more impactful without the ball and understand the pressing scheme, so that for us is a really good indication as to where he is mentally, where he is with his development and that he has a really open mindset.

"If he does make that transition to the first team, like we all hope, the journey doesn't end, because we want him to get better again and continue to evolve and grow. Our job is to make sure we're really honest and supportive with him wherever he is in his development. He needs to know, when he's ready, he'll get pushed.

"What Tommy and all the players have to realise is, they have to go and take someone's shirt. There's not one professional footballer I've ever known will give up a position. His job is to convince the first team manager that he's reliable enough, trustworthy enough and can do all the things the manager wants. He then has to go and displace someone, which is really difficult. It's great for us because we then get to see the growth in a young person."