Considering the hunger for the merest scrap of transfer news at this time of year, I am sure that it hasn't escaped anyone's notice that speculation regarding Kieran Richardson's future is becoming one of the staples of the summer. I am somewhat loath to use the term 'transfer saga', but that is what it is slowly beginning to resemble.
We have seemed to have bounced from claims that he will be leaving and claims he won't be and back again for weeks now. First it was Everton who were said to be 'on the verge' of signing him. Sunderland denied it. Then it was newly-promoted Reading who were supposed to be taking an interest. Sunderland said they knew nothing. Most recently it has been West Ham's name linked, whilst the north east press responded with a story that Martin O'Neill is keen to keep him.
It is all getting rather tedious, and quite exhausting.
What has been considerably more interesting, however, has been the general reaction from the fans to the possibility of Richardson leaving this summer. There doesn't seem an overriding opinion either way. Some would quite like him to stay. Some see him as no real loss. But no one really seems that bothered.
I suppose yet another player leaving the club isn't anything remarkable. It seems like Sunderland have been locked in a perpetual rebuilding process for eons. The surprising part is how little a connection with the fans Kieran Richardson seems to have built during his time on Wearside.
After all, we are talking about the current longest serving player and someone who has played over 100 games for the club in the top division. How many Sunderland players have done that in the last 50 years? I didn't even want to look into it, as I am pretty sure the paltry number would just depress me (as well as the fact that Phil Bardsley is one of them). He is a player who has been loyal to the club. He has never really caused any bad headlines off the pitch. He has demonstrated his commitment by showing a willingness and enthusiasm for playing in any position asked of him. He even has a hugely memorable winning goal in a Wear-Tyne derby to his name.
Players have been utterly revered at this club for far less, and far less talented ones too.
I must admit that I am no different to the rest really. Personally, I'd like him to stay and sign a new contract. He is versatile, quick, and at a good age for his game to really come together over the next couple of years. That is a wholly dispassionate opinion, however, and one devoid of any real sense of affinity with the player.
Whether that says more about the player or the nature of the modern game itself though is the real question. English football has been on an apparent perpetual mission to drive a wedge between itself and its fans for years. Ticket prices are through the roof, as are subscription TV fees to watch the game and if you want to treat yourself to a brand new replica shirt these days you'd best have a friendly bank manager behind you just in case. Meanwhile, footballers and their agents just get richer and richer.
We have perhaps been more exposed to the ruthlessness of top-level modern football than most clubs' fans over the last couple of years. Darren Bent conned us into thinking he felt some affinity with us, but was little more than a leech. The manner in which Asamoah Gyan treated the club was even colder. Last season, when fans took to their feet and called for an end to the shambles into which Steve Bruce's tenure had descended, they were widely vilified my the national media whilst the man himself got to walk away with millions of the club's money.
Is it really any wonder that we have all become such a desensitized rabble of cynics whilst the connection between football figures and fans becomes ever more tenuous?
I hope Kieran Richardson stays at the club. He has been a model professional and a good player with plenty left to give. I suspect he would be difficult to replace, especially for the kind of fee that he would be likely to bring should he be sold.
Whatever happens, though, I hope that someday he gets the proper credit his service to Sunderland AFC deserves, because if that day comes then we know that football is well on the way to belonging to the fans once again.