It all seemed to be falling into place for Connor Wickham towards the tail-end of last season, with five crucial goals in the final month of the campaign helping to ensure Sunderland's survival in the Premier League against all odds.
He'd been a forgotten man under a series of managers and even Gus Poyet seemed unconvinced when loaning him out to Sheffield Wednesday in November, just a few weeks into his new job as head coach.
Wickham found form at Hillsborough, hitting a tremendous eight goals in 13 appearances, yet still couldn't get a look-in back at his parent club. He then went off to Leeds United for a short spell prior to an extraordinary return to the Stadium of Light just in time to make himself a hero.
That flurry of goals piqued other clubs' interest and they're apparently under the impression a bargain can be had with Wickham edging closer to the end of his contract. True, being under-24 would mean that a fee would have to be paid regardless of his contractual situation, but it's highly likely that a paltry figure would be placed on his head if proceedings went to a tribunal and rival sides know it.
In an ideal world, he'd agree to a new long-term contract with Sunderland - but what if he doesn't?
With several loan spells away and the reluctance of every Sunderland manager who has taken Wickham on to actually hand him an opportunity before April this year, it could well be the 21-year-old feels unwanted and unsettled. His stint in the starting line-up towards the end of last season will have done little to alter his perception of where he stands in the pecking order under Poyet, as he undoubtedly fears a swift return to the bench.
However, the Uruguayan has been at pains to point out his wish to keep the former Ipswich Town trainee and involve him in his plans. Gus has developed absolute faith in the England under-21 hit-man and views him as a massive part of the future. The problem is, does Wickham see it that way after being played out of position last weekend, plus will temptation prove too much when taking into account the added pressure for business leaders at the club to cash-in should the bustling forward fail to sign a new deal shortly?
The club waited a long time for the striker to come good and now that he has begun to blossom, it would be folly to let him go on the cheap if it can be avoided. His potential is there for all to see and it'd be a crying shame if he didn't fulfil everything he is capable of with the Black Cats.
West Ham tested the water recently with two bids, the best of which was reportedly £5m. Sunderland paid £8.1m and invested heavily both financially and in training him up, while finally witnessing the fruits of their labour in that late-season revival. If Wickham was deemed to be worth over eight million pounds three years ago when he'd done very little in his career, then surely he's worth a heck of a lot more now?
Numerous teams have been mentioned in connection with the player, but unless any club are willing to part with 'silly money' - by that I mean £12m-plus - then it simply doesn't make any sense whatsoever to let him walk away.
Keeping hold of him without putting pen to paper still appears a viable option because his goals and work-rate could prove extremely important to the chances of success this season. If Wickham won't sign up this summer, then he should still be utilised for the good of the team and perhaps a compromise between the parties could be reached later on.
For me, the worst course of action would be to let him disappear now for anything less than a crazy amount, thus missing out on the chance to see the best of him for the sake of peanuts. Additionally, the club would need to go out and buy another goalscorer in his place who would cost more than double the insulting £5m offered by the Hammers earlier this month.
There simply isn't an argument to let him leave at this juncture unless a stupendous bid comes in which would force the club's hand. New deal or no new deal, I would rather have him stay under almost any circumstances, as opposed to watching on while he flourishes elsewhere.