Promising Frenchman in the spotlight.
French striker Mikael Mandron is itching to make the most of the chance he has been handed across the English Channel.
The forward became only the second foreign player – after Alex Gorrin – to represent Sunderland's Academy when he joined the club in summer 2011.
Hailing from the town of Boulogne in northern France, Mandron was identified by Sunderland's talent-spotters in Europe and eventually handed a crack at making it in the Barclays Premier League.
Mandron had played for a junior club in his home town from the age of seven before sealing his big move to Wearside.
He is an avid follower of Real Madrid - “I've supported them since I was very small” - and grew up watching the likes of French legend Zinedine Zidane and Brazilian star Ronaldo.
The youngster admits to not following any of the French teams particularly closely, although he does watch out for the results of Paris Saint-Germain, Stephane Sessegnon's old club.
But having been inspired by the football in Spain, Mandron found himself in England instead after being approached by Sunderland.
“The scouts from Sunderland were watching me and I came over for a trial in early 2011,” he said.
“Then I had another one and eventually they offered me the scholarship, which was fantastic. I was delighted to join a club like Sunderland.”
But Mandron struggled initially to adjust to life in England on the field.
Going from school life to full-time football and training every day proved tough for the big striker, who was growing into his huge 6'4” frame as well as getting used to life in a different country.
“It was difficult for me at first after coming over to England,” he said.
“I struggled with the changes and training every day because I was not used to that in France. The strength of the game is also different, but I received some fantastic help from everyone here.
“We live in digs with host families and they were very supportive of me, while I have a great set of team-mates. Everyone was brilliant and I managed to adjust well.”
The season – the first of a two-year scholarship - turned out to be profitable as Mandron bagged a respectable eight goals.
“I feel like it was a good season and finishing as second-top scorer in my first year was very pleasing," he said.
“I played in the reserves too which was also good for me. Everyone at the club is so welcoming and I feel like I have improved my game both mentally and physically.
“Hopefully that will mean a good season this year, but I know I will have to work for it.”
The striker has put in plenty of hard work in the summer and, while always tall, he has come back from the break boasting an even more intimidating physical presence.
That hard graft has translated into an excellent start for the season, with Mandron leading the way on the goalscoring front with four strikes in his opening three Barclays U18 Premier League outings.
A well-taken brace in the recent 4-2 derby win over Newcastle was followed by another double last weekend as the young Black Cats ran out 3-2 victors at Aston Villa.
“Things could not have gone any better for me so far,” he admitted.
“We have played some nice football, I've got some goals and I will carry on working hard to get more. Hopefully they will come.
“Beating Newcastle was brilliant and we did really well to get an away win last weekend against a really good Aston Villa team.
“Now I'm looking forward to playing Manchester United this weekend and hopefully scoring more goals over the course of the rest of the season.”