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Can Connor Cut It

Last week Sunderland won the race to sign highly-rated 18 year-old Ipswich Town striker Connor Wickham. The Black Cats saw off interest from Premier League giants Liverpool, who Wickham has supported all his life, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal to secure the teenage sensation’s signature.

Wickham moves to Wearside for an initial £8.1 m, although the fee may rise to over £12m with additional clauses included in the deal such as appearance fees, number of goals scored and international honours.

Many believe Sunderland boss Steve Bruce has paid over the top for a player unproven at this level. After all, Wickham has only just turned 18 and has barely played one full season in the Championship with former club Ipswich Town.

Wickham’s 15 goals in 72 league and cup appearances for the Tractor Boys will hardly get the Sunderland fans off their feet but 35 of these have been as a substitute. Wickham has also been deployed on the left wing alot under both Ipswich manager’s he has played for – Roy Keane and current boss Paul Jewell.

Wickham, like alot of Ipswich players at the time was often left frustrated under the management of Roy Keane and although his talent’s were obvious, he was never given enough time or played in the right position to show them off.

When Jewell took charge of Town in January, he predominantly used Wickham as a centre-foward and Connor’s talent was there to see as he bagged nine goals up until the end of the season, the most any Town player has scored after the turn of a year since Darren Bent netted 10 in 2004.

6”3, built like a tank and quick, Wickham has the credentials to be a threat to any defence. Doncaster Rovers found this out when they were on the receiving end of a 6-0 drubbing from the Tractor Boys last season with Wickham bagging himself his first career hat-trick.

Wickham also scored one of the best goals ever to be seen at Portman Road. Collecting the ball from well inside his own half, he strode past numerous Sheffield United challenges before calmly feinting and then finishing beyond the startled Blades goalkeeper.

Wickham is Ipswich’s youngest ever debutant, coming on as a sub in Ipswich’s 3-1 home defeat to Doncaster in 2009. He was just 16 years and 11 days old then, beating Jason Dozzell’s previous record by 46 days.

Wickham joins Sunderland from a fantastic youth academy at Ipswich, which has produced a number of quality players who have gone on to play at a higher level. Recent players such as Kieran Dyer, Richard Wright, James Scowcroft, Titus Bramble, Darren Bent and Darren Ambrose to mention a few have all made a name for themselves in the game and Black Cat’s fans will find optimism from this.

Wickham has been touted of being England’s future. So far he has won England U16, U17, U19 and U21 caps with many more surely to come. Wickham also netted the winning goal for the U17’s team in the European Championship final against Spain last summer, which the Three Lions won 2-1.

He was also involved in the U21’s dismal European Championship’s this summer but failed to make an appearance.

Steve Bruce has been a long-term admirer of Wickham after spotting the potential in him two years ago whilst his son Alex was at Ipswich. Bruce, saw so much in the youngster that he offered the Blues an audacious bid of a four-man swap for Connor involving Dean Whitehead, Darryl Murphy, Carlos Edwards and Grant Leadbitter.

The bid was turned down but ironically both Edwards and Leadbitter ended up making permanent moves to Portman Road shortly afterwards whilst Darryl Murphy also joined on loan for a few months.

Bruce said: “A number of top sides have been chasing Connor for some time now so, naturally, we are absolutely delighted he has chosen to come to Sunderland.

“We’ve been watching him for a while and he’s improving and developing all the time. He is a great prospect and I’m sure our supporters will enjoy watching him play.”

Wickham, who was crowned both the Championship Young Player and Apprentice of the Year in 2010/11, becomes the most expensive player to have moved from the Championship to the Premier League without previous experience in the top flight.

In 2006 Theo Walcott made the switch from Southampton to Arsenal for a fee which, after a renegotiation in 2008, eventually totalled £9 million, having initially been set at £12 million including clauses.

The deal also makes Wickham Town’s most expensive sale, smashing the £6.5 million Newcastle paid the Blues for Kieron Dyer in the summer of 1999.

I believe this is a good deal for both Sunderland and Ipswich. Ipswich can net a potential £12m from the sale of their prized asset, from which they can sign three or four good players to try and launch a promotion bid after several years of mid-table security. Sunderland on the other hand have signed a real gem of a player with a really bright future in-front of him. Likely to be in Bruce’s striking plans from the beginning, Wickham could end up being the signing of the season if he can cope with the pressures of the Premier League and the burden of expectancy that comes with a hefty price tag from the media and fans alike.

Will Ridgard


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