Earlier this month, reports came out that Sunderland's very own Mr. Reliable, the flame haired star child Jack Colback, had let us all down by rejecting a contract extension, and pushing for a exit from the Stadium of Light. It was something of a surprise, especially after Di Canio had marked him out as a crucial player: a 'pitbull' that would be a vital part of his plans for transforming the club.
Of course, it's easy to understand why Colback might want to leave. The club have never really found a clear role for the 23-year old during his time in the first team picture. Instead he's been forced to move between positions according to need, spending most of last season as a makeshift left-back, rather than in his 'natural' centre midfield placing. It isn't hard to imagine Colback is incredibly frustrated by the Darren Williams-esque role he has at the club currently, and seeks to move to a club who will find a role beyond that of a utility man.
Sadly for Colback, this versatility is a major attribute, and one of the reasons the club should be fighting to keep him. However he does more than just 'fill in'. In fact it's hard to think of another player who will take to the pitch with such commitment and consistency regardless of the position they play. Left back, right back, left wing, in the middle: Colback is equally solid in all of them and, ignoring any frustrations he may have by the way he's used by the club, the England youth international plays with an enthusiasm that is unmatched on the pitch, wherever he is forced to play. At a time when Sunderland are buying a lot of players untested at Premier League level, there's something comforting about having Colback, someone you can rely on to produce consistent performances.
Despite the busy transfer window Sunderland have had this summer, the squad is still a small one, lacking in key positions. Even if the club, as you imagine it would, sign the two full backs and centre midfielder it needs, it's would be a huge advantage to have a player of Colback's quality, who is capable of covering a number of area effectively. His impressive performances so far during pre-season, where he's looked quicker and stronger than at any other point in his career, has eased the burden that the club has in finding a left back somewhat.
Colback's versatility is incredibly useful, and he can use it to offer options that the club arguably doesn't have elsewhere. Defensively, the Killingworth born Academy product has proved just how effective he can be at neutralising the threat of wingers and marauding full backs. We saw this during the one game he played at right back; the 1-0 victory at home to Everton, where he kept Leighton Baines out of the game. In the recent pre-season games against Tottenham and Manchester City, he similarly managed Kyle Walker and Pablo Zabaleta effectively. While it's true that Colback is unlikely to gallop down the left wing as Di Canio appears to want from his full backs, he can give the team another option, when a particular threat down the wing needs to be marked out of the game.
He's also a perfect player to throw on from the bench if the side need to hold on for a win. Colback has often been criticised by fans for being too slow in possession; for holding onto the ball or producing 'sideways passes' when the team needs to attack. But, throw him in the middle of the park, it's this ability to slow the game down and hold onto possession that could come extremely useful when Di Canio's men need to protect a lead.
There's an unfortunate truth that Colback must face. It's that his role as a 'utility man' is perhaps the best bet he has for furthering his career. In his 'natural' centre midfield position, his diminutive stature, combined with his lack of mobility, make it hard for him to to dominate in the middle of the park. In the full back positions he's not the type of player to make long darts forward on the overlap. However as a 'chameleon footballer', who can fit into several roles whenever needed, Colback is a football managers wet dream. If he did move elsewhere, he'd probably find his new club would realise his greatest strength is in his versatility and use him in a similar way Sunderland already do.
Jack Colback may want to find a clear role for himself, but he might find he'll get the best out of his career by staying at Sunderland and playing the unfashionable utility man role. It might well be that Colback needs to stay at the club he's been with since the age of 10, as much as that club needs him to stay.