PROFILE: ‘He has a lot of quality’ - City new boy Mumba needs to convert potential into ability to thrive in Norfolk
- Credit: Archant
Norwich City completed the signing of highly-rated full-back Bali Mumba on Monday. Connor Southwell caught up with Sunderland Echo reporter Phil Smith to find out more about the 18-year-old.
When Bali Mumba replaced John O’Shea in Sunderland’s final Championship game against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the end of the 2017/18 season, many expected the symbolic gesture to earmark a bold new revolution at the Stadium of Light, with the then 16-year-old becoming a major player.
At that point, Mumba was studying for his GCSEs alongside striving to forge a career in the unforgiving world of professional football. He was regarded as Wearside’s brightest star – the hopes of a new generation were place on his young shoulders.
Thanks to the help of a video streaming service, Sunderland’s demise has been turned into a drama, the Stadium of Light seems to have a permanent shadow that cannot be shifted and the ownership debacle seems to persist, regardless of who owns the keys to the football club.
Mumba has been regarded as a rare bright light. A beacon of hope whose development could lead Sunderland out of the gloom. But now, their poster boy has departed for pastures new – Mumba’s arrival at Carrow Road has created an aftershock of anger on Wearside, his departure yet another sign of how low Sunderland have fallen.
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“I suppose at the end of the day, he’s still only 18 and you would expect there to be ups and downs for any player to break through, particularly when they do so at such a young age,” said Phil Smith.
“The feeling at the start of this/last season was that as his rise had been so rapid, it would be a good idea to get a good run in the U23 side as this was something he’d not had before.
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“I’d be reluctant to judge him too much on performances in that side as collectively they just haven’t been strong enough to compete at that level.”
Mumba featured largely as a central midfielder for Sunderland - but a lack of game time saw him drop down the levels to join non-league South Shields for the latter half of last season.
Mumba never managed to nail down a consistent starting berth on Wearside, something Smith says won’t have put the Canaries off signing the England under-19 international.
“It’s not been an easy side to play in. More broadly, and going back a little bit further, he initially had a run at the start of the 2018/19 season because Sunderland’s squad was still very much in a state of flux.
“Competition for places grew when Lee Cattermole came back to the squad (and he was excellent all season) and Max Power was signed from Wigan.
“It’s disappointing he hasn’t featured more but from Norwich’s perspective, I can see why that hasn’t dissuaded them. He has a lot to improve but time is still on his side.”
Mumba’s loan spell in non-league was more a willingness to play senior football rather than a reflection on his ability.
The teenager was beginning to hit his stride just as football was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“He was unfortunate in that fixtures were postponed just as he was really beginning to make an impact. It was obviously a very different test playing with the level of physicality you get at that level compared to the U23s. He was playing well and in quite an advanced position, which was interesting from a Sunderland point of view.
“In the end, though, he was only able to get a handful of appearances under his belt. I think he’d benefit from getting another chance to go out and play senior games next year.”
The 18-year-old is targeted as a first-team option for the Canaries. Mumba is expected to offer competition in the right-back position, with City keen to overhaul their squad following relegation from the Premier League.
Mumba, despite the high expectations held for him on Wearside, has exited stage left with only a handful of performances to his name. His development has been stifled over confusion as to his best position – but his technical qualities have never been in doubt.
Numerous managers have discussed Mumba’s talents, very few have taken the plunge and started him on a consistent basis. First it was Chris Coleman, then Jack Ross and now Phil Parkinson – all coaches who have been unable to convert raw potential into consistent ability.
“On the ball, he has a lot of quality and real composure. He can go past a player as well and has that ability to get out of tight spaces. It’s probably off the ball where he has some work to do to get up to that top level, but it really is worth remembering just how early it is in his career on that front.”