Duncan Watmore can become the next player with a non-league background to make an impact in the Premier League, says Sunderland legend Kevin Phillips.
Having been released by Manchester United as a 12-year-old, Watmore came through Altrincham's ranks as a teenager and scored 15 goals in 48 games in the 2012-13 season as an 18-year-old.
His fantastic performances caught the eyes of plenty, including Sunderland, who snapped him up in the summer as he make the jump from sixth tier football to a top flight club.
Watmore has only just began to get chances in the first team, two years later, but Phillips is confident that the 21-year-old can take these and establish himself not only as a key player for Sunderland, but as a star in the Premier League.
Difficult jump but one Watmore can make
Writing for Chronicle Live this week, Phillips drew upon his own experiences when discussing Watmore, as he himself made the jump from non-league football to the top flight.
Having been released by Southampton, the striker joined Baldock Town in 1991 and spent three years with them before being signed by then second-tier Watford and Premier League Sunderland just three years after that.
Thus, he knows that "going from non-league to the top flight is a tough path to tread."
Phillips elaborated, saying this is for many reasons, such as going "from part-time to full time" and because you are suddenly facing "some of the best players in Europe" every week, all of which make for "a huge step up."
However, in Watmore, he believes that Sunderland have "their own rising star" who can emulate the success many have enjoyed in making the leap, most recently the likes of Charlie Austin and Jamie Vardy, whose examples he used to illustrate his point.
The one bright spot in Everton defeat
In a season that has been rather dark and disappointing so far, Watmore has been a rare positive for the Black Cats. The youngster has been given more opportunities given his team's situation, and Phillips has been impressed by the way he has taken these.
In last Sunday's defeat to Everton for example, one the 42-year-old described as "horrible," the young winger was "impress[ive]."
Phillips continued, describing Watmore as a player who is "direct and positive" and one who "shows no fear," which is exactly what Sunderland need to spark them into life right now, as he acts as "a breath of fresh air" and a player who can "excite the fans."
The former-Sunderland man was particularly impressed with how the England under-21 international played up against John Stones, a player "expected to become one of the mainstays" in England's senior team in the future.
Phillips wrote that Watmore caused the young Toffee "all kinds of problems," adding that he was "unlucky" not to score as well in the 6-2 defeat.
Furthermore, the current Derby County assistant believes that Sam Allardyce "will give him more game time" than Dick Advocaat did, something which "can only be a good thing" for not only Watmore himself, but "for Sunderland" too.
Sunderland must tie youngster down
First and foremost though, the Wearsiders need to ensure that Watmore does not slip out of their hands.
The 21-year-old is out of contract in the summer and is yet to put pen to paper on a new deal, though it has been reported that this will be done during the upcoming international break, which begins next week.
Phillips wrote that this "needs" to be done "as quickly as possible" as clubs are "sure" to be "sniffing around" the young winger if not, given his "homegrown" status and the impact he has made at youth level for England.
Thus, the striker was "pleased" to hear Allardyce call a contract for Watmore a "priority," and to read that the player is also "keen to stay at Sunderland," as "he looks to have a big future ahead of him" and so it is important for the Black Cats to ensure "he realises his potential" with them, and not another club.