Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Leverkusen. Some of Europe's biggest football clubs and what do they all have in common? An interest in Sunderland wonderkid Chris Rigg.

After bursting onto the scene as a 15-year-old in the Black Cats' FA Cup triumph against Shrewsbury Town last season, the combative midfielder has gone from strength to strength, establishing himself as one of the first names on Sunderland's teamsheet making 22 senior appearances in all competitions.

The 16-year-old has bypassed under-18’s and 21’s football. Now spending his weekends battling it out in the Championship. Unfazed by the step up to senior football, despite his young age, he already has three senior goals for the Black Cats and it should come as no surprise he's attracted the attention of some of Europe’s biggest clubs.

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While Sunderland are confident of keeping Rigg at the club this summer, his inclusion on the Black Cats retained list the biggest indication of that yet, the England youth international is yet to sign his first professional contract. Celebrating his 17th birthday in June, Rigg will either be able to commit to his future on Wearside or move on to pastures new.

Having been at the Academy of Light since the age of nine, Sunderland are hoping his exposure this season in the first-team will be enough to keep him at the club.

However, if Rigg does decide to leave the club this summer they would be owed a hefty compensation fee. When Harvey Elliott left Fulham to join Liverpool it was reported that the London club received around £4million in compensation once add-ons were met.

Given Rigg’s talent and his experience at such a young age, it wouldn't be unrealistic to assume a similar fee would come Sunderland's way. Hypothetically speaking, if he does sign a new deal, the Black Cats could recoup a much larger fee from interested parties a few years down the line. After all, game time is hugely important for upcoming talents and he's already shown he's outgrown his own age group. Playing youth football elsewhere would only be a backwards step. On the face of things, there's no better place than Sunderland at the moment.

So just how important is it for Sunderland to keep their rising star?

The 16-year-old has featured predominantly on the right of the Black Cats' front three this season. An area of the pitch where they've struggled. His performances towards the latter end of the campaign offering red and white supporters encouragement he can cut it in the Championship.

While Rigg's stats may be impressive for someone of his age, it would be remiss not to highlight areas of improvement within context. As we see from the defensive activity below, Rigg is not shy of getting back to help his team out, but he's perhaps fallen victim to Sunderland shifting away from their high press that stood them in good stead last season.

The Black Cats we happy to give up possession in the latter stages of the campaign, with Mike Dodds trying to get results against opposition that resided in the top-six. A lot of Rigg's defensive work is done on the halfway line, which may have played it's part in the offensive side of his game.

As Sunderland defend deeper with men behind the ball, it limited their ability to counter up the other end at pace and thus, got less shots off on goal.

We Are Sunderland: Chris Rigg's defensive activity for Sunderland this season.Chris Rigg's defensive activity for Sunderland this season. (Image: StatsBomb)While Rigg may have played out on that right-hand flank, his long-term future remains in a more central role with a section of the red and white fanbase viewing him as a natural successor to Dan Neil should he depart Wearside. 

Sunderland interim head coach Dodds lifted the lid on why Rigg was used out on that right-hand side of the pitch, explaining: “I don't see that as his position [in the long run], I don't. I think as a 16-year-old to play Riggy in the middle of the pitch, is a lack of care for him and his development.

"I think him playing out wide and rolling inside is a perfect balance between trying to find him the ball. Trying to get him to show everyone what he can do, but also, not put him right in the melting pot if that makes sense. If you go through a lot of the England team, where do they make their debuts? A lot of the debuts are outside of that cauldron. I think eventually, he'll be a midfield player.”

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While some may turn up their noses at three goals in 22 first-team appearances, for a 16-year-old to do so in just 887 minutes, it's remarkable.

Even playing out of position, Rigg’s stats hold their own in comparison to the league average for wingers and attackers - pictured below. It’s also worth noting that these comparisons are being made against a Championship average age of 25-years-old - nearly 10 years older than the Sunderland teenager.

We Are Sunderland: How Chris Rigg compares to the rest of the Championship last season.How Chris Rigg compares to the rest of the Championship last season. (Image: StatsBomb)

The youngster is only slightly below the league average for xG and shots, only being 0.1 behind for xG and 0.76 behind in the latter per-90. However, his shot-on-ball value (OBV) is 0.04 higher than the average - OBV can be explained here

Rigg also has a higher xG/Shot, meaning his shots are more likely to lead to a goal than the league average. His dribble and carry OBV is only slightly behind the average of 0.07 to 0.11, but he draws 0.1 more fouls and turns the ball over 0.14 fewer times.

"Riggy wants to play at the highest level, so he'll want me to be quite tough with him," Dodds told We Are Sunderland after Sunderland's draw with Leeds United. So, it would be remiss not to point out the areas of the game he can improve heading into next season, and if we know anything about the rising talent, he'll take that in his stride.

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As hinted at earlier, Rigg has considerably less touches in the opponents box, but a factor for that may be the way Sunderland have played. As we pointed out earlier on - aside from Jack Clarke - we very rarely saw an attacking midfielder stand up a defender one-on-one and burst into the box. It's also worth noting that it probably isn't Rigg's natural game to take players on, not that he can't do it, but he's a talent who sits in between the lines and picks a pass.

Which leads us into our next area for improvement, his Pass OBV. Again, perhaps indicative of the way Sunderland operated in the final run in, Rigg played just seven key passes with resulting shots registering an xG of 0.33. It's an area Dodds himself referenced in the draw at Elland Road, where Rigg had an opportunity to slide in Timothee Pembele down the right, a missed opportunity. If the youngster is able to refine his on the ball work in the final third next season, he really can go on to the very top.

We Are Sunderland: How Chris Rigg compares to Sunderland's squad for xG.How Chris Rigg compares to Sunderland's squad for xG. (Image: StatsBomb)Interestingly, Rigg ranks sixth for xG in Sunderland's squad last season for players who played over 600 minutes worth of football. It's worth bearing in mind the likes of Bradley Dack and Luis Hemir Semedo's statistics, like Rigg's, will be appear slightly better than Clarke for example, who played more minutes of football and thus impacting his xG per-90. That being said, Rigg registers an xG of 0.17, a respectable return given the minutes he's played this season.

If the metric is changed from just xG to xG per shot to see the likelihood the player's shot will go in, Rigg ranks first in the squad for outfield players. Bizarrely, goalkeeper Anthony Patterson ranks first for his one shot of the season - a header from a corner in the dying embers of Sunderland's defeat to Swansea City.

We Are Sunderland: Chris Rigg ranks top of Sunderland's outfield players in terms of xG/ Shot resulting in a goal.Chris Rigg ranks top of Sunderland's outfield players in terms of xG/ Shot resulting in a goal. (Image: StatsBomb)

Again, that Patterson header is an anomaly given it was his only shot on target this season, but for outfield players, Rigg ranks second in the squad for accuracy with 42 per cent of his shots landing on target, being beaten by Jobe Bellingham's 44 per cent.

We Are Sunderland: Chris Rigg ranks second for Sunderland's outfield players for shot accuracy.Chris Rigg ranks second for Sunderland's outfield players for shot accuracy. (Image: StatsBomb)

Of Rigg's 12 shots on goal in the Championship, he had an xG of 1.66 - his two goals outperforming his expected goals. His goal against Blackburn Rovers registering at 0.72 xG, his headed goal against Southampton just 0.05 suggesting he did well to score from that chance.

Looking at the shot map below, you would expect to see more shots from Rigg with more minutes under his belt next season.

We Are Sunderland: Chris Rigg's efforts on goal for Sunderland in 2023/24.Chris Rigg's efforts on goal for Sunderland in 2023/24. (Image: StatsBomb)

Sunderland’s current model makes it the land of opportunity for young talented players. The average age for their squad this season was 23-years-old and nine of their players are aged 21 and under.

Riggs's minutes for a 16-year-old are impressive at 890 and he had eight Championship starts towards the end of the season, a sign of the trust and belief the club have in him.

We Are Sunderland: Chris Rigg's minutes for Sunderland last season.Chris Rigg's minutes for Sunderland last season. (Image: StatsBomb)When asked about what the summer might hold for Rigg, Dodds was unequivocal with his answer.

"I'm not in any of those type of discussions so I don't know exactly what the situation is but I love to Riggy to bits and he knows my thoughts: if he doesn't sign I think he's mad - that's my personal opinion," the interim head coach said.

"If you're a young footballer then Sunderland is just a huge opportunity right now in the trust we put in young players and the chances we give them. The work behind the scenes to develop the young players we've got, and it's not just Riggy look at Dan Neil, Trai Hume, Dan Ballard.

"His performances are slowly maturing and if he feels right now that there's somewhere else better for him, I'd like to see where that is to be honest. I just think this is a wonderful club to be a young player at the moment."

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Sunderland are still yet to appoint a new head coach ahead of next season but the general consensus is they'll hire someone with a track record of developing and improving younger talent.

Whoever that may be, if the Black Cats are able to tie down someone of Rigg's ability and potential, the incoming head coach will have the opportunity to work with one of English football's rising stars.

The money and stature of the clubs interested in his signature this summer may be enticing, but having spoken to those close to Rigg earlier this season, it's clear he will make a decision based on what he believes is best for his future. Fingers crossed that's at Sunderland.