Eyebrows may have been raised when Manchester City’s 17-year-old centre-back Callum Doyle was snapped up by League One promotion-chasers Sunderland on loan last summer.
Doyle had impressed for the Under-23s for City, but wasn’t pushing the first team and there was plenty of pressure attached to a Sunderland side who just couldn’t get out of the third tier. But Doyle quickly settled in at the Stadium of Light and was a regular at centre-back under Lee Johnson.
However, when Johnson was sacked and replaced by Alex Neil, Doyle found himself out of the side as Sunderland pressed on towards promotion. He played a supporting role in their eventual play-off win, coming off the bench in the final, but was a central figure in their on-pitch celebrations at Wembley, sporting a huge smile as he celebrated promotion in his first year as a senior player. In total, he made 44 appearances, starting 34 times.
Now, Doyle will look to build on his year at Sunderland, but given Neil’s preferences, he may have to look elsewhere for his next loan. We spoke to Matty Hewitt from Chronicle Live, who gave the lowdown of Doyle’s season and even backed him to represent England in future if his development continues.
“I think it’s fair to say Doyle was one of the surprise performers earlier in the season,” Matty says.
“The signing of a 17-year-old rose some eyebrows, but it was clear from the very off the quality he possesses. I remember a pre-season friendly against Hearts, he played alongside Tom Flanagan, an experienced professional at League One level, and Doyle completely outshone him. You can tell he’s still pretty raw and has plenty of time to develop, but I was really impressed with him.
“His ability to play out from the back with a cool head was one of his standout attributes, but he was also very rarely outbattled which bodes well at such a young age. It may be a bold statement, but you can see him playing for England at a senior level if he carries on his current trajectory. He played an awful lot for the Black Cats but was rested towards the end of the campaign.”
When Neil replaced Johnson, Sunderland made a huge statement that anything less than promotion wasn’t good enough, and Doyle was a victim of an ambitious recruitment drive in January.
Matty explained: “Doyle played an awful lot of football like many of his teammates. The Sunderland squad was completely revamped last summer with an influx of younger players. However, for a lot of them, Doyle included, it was their first season in senior football.
“The Black Cats went through a torrid run of form around January, with a lot of the players clearly fatigued. The arrival of Alex Neil coincided with signings in the January transfer window. Danny Batth came through the door from Championship side Stoke City and it meant that Doyle was rested for the League One run-in. I wouldn’t say it was down to any errors or mistakes, just the fact he had played an awful lot of football without any real rest.”
With his drop to the bench through no fault of his own, it seems like Doyle could make the step up to the Championship if the right club is found – however, it may not be with Sunderland.
“Doyle coped well with the physical side of League One and has the technical ability to go higher. I don’t think I would rule out a move to a Championship side on loan next season, but even a move back to League One, to a promotion-chasing club, would stand him in good stead,” Matty told us.
“I think the main thing for Doyle next season has to be going to a club where his game-time can be managed.
“Doyle arrived at Sunderland when they were under the guidance of Lee Johnson but now Alex Neil has arrived, it doesn’t look like the Man City youngster will be part of his plans going forward. While Sunderland are still having talks over next season’s budget, they have reportedly opened talks with Everton over extending Nathan Broadhead’s loan at the club.
“As things stand, there hasn’t been any talk of Sunderland going back in for Doyle.”