We’ve all had at least one.
Some of us have had many. Some have given us nightmares and some have given us moments of joy. A sacred few have given us memories to last a lifetime. Some are young, eager and enthusiastic, while some are older, weathered and wise.
Some come in times of desperation and others arrive lauded as the next Messiah. Others stay for a month, while some hang around for the entire season.
There are those that like it so much that they sign up permanently.
Yet for every Shay Given, Jonny Evans or Yann M’Vila, there’s an Alan Quinn, a Simon Johnson or a Tal Ben Haim. Yes, we have all at one stage or another, whether we choose to admit it or not, fallen in love with one.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the loan player.
Some of the aforementioned names could well indeed be your own personal favourites, and the others may well bring you out in a cold sweat. Now that I think about it, I’ve yet to encounter anyone who saw both Dominic Matteo and Kevin Cooper turn out in a Sunderland shirt, but I’m certain there are a few of you out there. One player who supporters are sure to never forget though is a certain Amad Diallo.
In January 2021, Manchester United signed Amad Diallo from Italian side Atalanta. The fee, or deal, according to Sky Sports, amounted to an eye-watering £37.2m. United were initially paying around £18m of that up front.
Amad had at that time amassed only five senior appearances to his name for Atalanta, none of which were starts, but he had been on United’s radar as far back as 2016.
It was and still is, an astronomical transfer fee to pay for a player then aged only 18, albeit one possessing massive potential. Amad has played nine times for United, with three of those coming in the Premier League. To aid his development further, he was loaned to Rangers last term, playing thirteen times for the Glasgow giants, scoring three goals.
When Sunderland gained promotion back to the Championship last summer and were alerted to Amad’s availability, it looked too good an opportunity to turn down. It may well prove to be a masterstroke.
What is obvious to everyone who watches him play is that Amad is a hugely talented footballer. Mercurial. Intelligent. A magician.
He can see passes that mere mortals cannot, and at times, beats players with ease. He is also very off the cuff.
Not everything he tries comes off, which can be frustrating at times, but he doesn’t seem to let that bother him. He always seems to find space, a trait of a clever footballer. It’s not unreasonable to say that it took him time to acclimatise to a new environment on Wearside.
Only one of his first eight appearances were starts, but he has indeed settled at the Stadium of Light. He has lit up games this season in spectacular fashion. The goal at Wigan was an absolute gem. At the time of writing, he sits on seven goals for the season.
After the rollercoaster end to last season, culminating in promotion for SAFC, and the exploits of a certain Nathan Broadhead, I find myself once again being suckered in by a loan player who dons our famous red and white stripes.
It’s an all too familiar feeling.
There have been a few since I started watching Sunderland. Shay Given was a revelation. Patrice Carteron cemented himself into folklore with the unlikeliest of goals against that lot up the road. Jonny Evans was mature beyond his years in his time on Wearside, and Djibril CIsse became a player for the big occasion.
There are others who have left their mark.
Messrs Rose, Borini, Alonso and M’Vila spring to mind. Broadhead himself scored some vital goals towards the end of our promotion winning campaign last season to endear himself to the red and white faithful. It doesn’t always work out after a successful loan spell.
Rose became a fixture with Spurs and England, Borini was signed permanently but never seemed to be the same player. Alonso and M’Vila were ones who got away. Broadhead too.
Nevertheless, I look back fondly on those who have made an impact whilst at SAFC on an albeit temporary basis. After Broadhead joined WIgan, I told myself never to be roped in again.
That golden rule; never again will I fall in love with a loan player, but with Amad, I feel that I’ve already broken my own promise.
The recruitment model that is currently being implemented at SAFC is working, of that there is no doubt. There is a more patient, structured and measured approach.
We have heard the phrase ‘data-driven’ spoken about frequently within the past 12-18 months. We are undoubtedly moving in the right direction.
The primary focus is on youth, and the development of those young players. The likes of Dennis Cirkin, Aje Alese, Jack Clarke and Dan Ballard are flourishing here on Wearside. They have been real finds. Their value, not only financially in terms of market value, but to the team as a whole, cannot be underestimated and we have to credit those behind the scenes with delivering that.
In turn, it has allowed a club like Manchester United to trust us with the next stage of development with another of their talented youngsters in Amad Diallo.
Sunderland is fast becoming a club where young players know they will be given opportunities to play and develop. Pierre Ekwah is another who has signed up for the ride at the Stadium of Light. I am sure there are many more exciting times ahead.
With almost two thirds of this season gone, it will be fascinating to see where Sunderland finish in the table after 46 games.
We have a young, vibrant, attacking side; one that competes and one I believe is good enough to be in and around the top six come the end of the campaign.
This season has surpassed many of our expectations already. We only amassed 37 points the last time we played at this level.
At the time of writing, we sit on 41 points from 28 games in 9th place, a solitary point outside the playoff spots. It will be another fascinating end to the season, however it turns out.
With players like Amad in our ranks, the stage is set.
We still have a great chance to achieve something remarkable. We have another star on our books, borrowed from the elite to help us on our way. Let’s see what happens.
Don’t fall in love with loan players? Absolutely no chance.