Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce has challenged rising star Duncan Watmore to earn his Masters degree on the pitch after graduating with honours off it.
The 21-year-old striker, who was awarded a first-class honours degree in Economics and Business Management earlier this year, was handed a first senior start for the Black Cats against Southampton in the Premier League on November 7 and has made a series of eye-catching contributions as a substitute in recent weeks.
Allardyce admits that Watmore, who was released by Manchester United as a youngster and rebuilt his career in non-league football with Altrincham as he combined football with his studies, still has a lot to learn, but is hopeful there is more to come.
The 61-year-old, who visibly shuddered at team-mate Jermain Defoe’s comparison with a young Gareth Bale earlier this week, said: “He’s obviously just starting his resurrection, if you like.
“He’s been a footballer at Manchester United; he got released. He went to Altrincham, did his degree and Sunderland picked him up, and his whole academic and football education has blossomed, so he is back in the Premier League.
“He’s finished his degree, so he doesn’t have to worry too much about studying, and now he can focus on his football 100 per cent trying to achieve a Masters degree in the Premier League because if you play in the Premier League, it equates to a Masters degree in terms of academic qualification.
“You play in the Premier League because of your football intelligence more than anything else.”
Watmore, who has made seven appearances so far this season – all but one of them as a substitute – and scored two goals, will hope for further involvement when in-form Stoke head for the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
He made headlines at international level earlier this month when he came off the bench with England Under-21s trailing 1-0 to Switzerland and provided two assists and a goal of his own to pave the way for a 3-1 victory.
His fledgling efforts for his club too have not gone unnoticed by fans who have eagerly awaited his introduction to the first team, although Allardyce is adopting a cautious approach.
He said: “There is too much talk about Duncan Watmore at the minute. He is an exciting prospect – he’s not the finished article, but I certainly hope he makes a big impact this season and continues to learn and progress as quickly as his physical and technical stats seem to suggest he is capable of.
“If he can get that brain engaged in terms of football knowledge and then use those abilities with football knowledge, he will make a big impact, perhaps this season, on the team.
“Can he provide the end product he provides in the under-21s for England and the under-21s for us? Can he provide that end product in the Premier League? If he can start doing that, then he starts playing regularly.”