Every year there seems to be a bright new prospect that suddenly emerges from Dave Parnaby’s famed Middlesbrough youth academy that captures the imagination of the fans and is inevitably linked to a big move away.
There’s been Stewart Downing, Adam Johnson, Nathan Porritt and Cameron Park to name but a few. Some have made it, some haven’t but it seems that Parnaby’s Midas touch is continuing to make itself known.
All of this of course is despite the club’s dwindling resources and recent tumble down the league standings yet the time has come for the club’s latest academy breakthrough performer, Joe Bennett, to be linked to a big move away from the Riverside.
Rochdale born Bennett was actually handed his debut way back in 2009 under Gareth Southgate for the last few minutes of Boro’s doomed relegation campaign in the match against West Ham United.
Few appearances followed before Gordon Strachan’s awkward tenure yielded little more playing time for the England youth player other than cup outings, pushing him to request a loan move which the manager declined.
Earlier this season under Strachan, Bennett was even overlooked in that troublesome left-back spot which the manager decimated by loaning out left footed defenders like Jonathan Grounds and Andrew Taylor.
Somehow the Scot decided that playing other players out of position would fill that void better and as a result brought in centre-back Matt Kilgallon on loan and asked him and right-back Justin Hoyte to fill in at left back.
It really wasn’t until Tony Mowbray took the helm that Bennett got his chance as a first team starter mainly due to injuries and the fact that he was the only natural left-back in the squad at that point.
But Bennett proved all of his doubters wrong and stepped up to become a first team regular with some sparkling displays that have since kept both the returning Taylor and Grounds from taking his place.
In January 2011 the promising 20-year-old was rewarded for his fine form by Mowbray with a four-and-a-half-year contract. The forward thinking defender’s performances have also been backed up by his emergence into the England Under 21 setup.
And Bennett’s success has not gone unnoticed elsewhere with the likes of Sunderland, Manchester City and Liverpool all being linked with moves for the youngster but Bennett seems more than keen to continue his footballing education on Teesside.
On his Twitter account Bennett posted a pledge to stay at the club although it has since been taken off his page. It read: “I don't know where the sunderland, city, liverpool talks come from tweeps!.... I aint going nowhere!”
And having signed such a long term deal so recently, Boro fans can at least rest assured that the defender will either stay or go for a good price. But surely as the club looks to next season, keeping the best of its young talent should be at the top of the agenda.
Another player who has also been linked with a big move is 18-year-old Cameron Park, who also was awarded a four-and-a-half-year contract in January this year.
Described by Mowbray as being in the mould of Boro success stories Adam Johnson and Stewart Downing, the left winger was linked with a surprise move to Liverpool despite only making Boro’s match day squad a handful of times.
All fans can hope for from these youngsters however is that they remain grounded, keep working hard for the cause and grow with the club rather than abandoning what has been a sinking ship in recent years.
The likes of the once highly-rated Porritt for instance failed to live up to expectations.
He found himself in the public eye after BBC Panorama secretly filmed him being presented to Chelsea officials without Boro’s consent.
Since then the now 21-year-old’s career has dwindled into obscurity as after the youngster was sent back to Boro following a loan spell at neighbouring Darlington in 2009 his contract was terminated by mutual consent.
He then went on trial at Portuguese club Belenenses and was widely reported to have signed for them although this reportedly turned out to be untrue.
Porritt is believed to now play his football in Belgium’s third tier at R.O.C de Charleroi-Marchienne although rumours have been circulating around the forums that he is back in England without a club at all.
The youngster was continually linked with having a poor attitude while on Teesside and it is this kind of story that Boro fans are desperate not to be repeated by the club’s current crop of hopefuls.
With guidance and commitment players like Bennett and Park could well become the club’s next success stories and hopefully their growth can continue to form part of Boro line-ups for years to come.
(Follow me on Twitter - @j_cbrown)