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Sunderland v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship

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Amad Diallo - Sunderland’s greatest-ever loanee?

Amad has made a stunning impression in red and white - his winning goal on Saturday was the latest in a long list of significant contributions.

Photo by Martin Swinney/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

At half time during the home game against Rotherham earlier in the season, a lot was made of Sunderland using the interval as a chance to parade their newly-signed quartet of young tyros on the pitch and to give the supporters a glimpse of what the future might hold.

Jewison Bennette, Edouard Michut, Amad and Abdoullah Ba were the players in question, and now that we’ve had a chance to see what they can offer, it’s fair to say that there have been more positives than negatives.

Sunderland v Rotherham - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

However, as exciting as the other three have been at times, Amad has been a cut above this season and he quite simply represents one of our most greatest ever forays into the loan market.

His latest match winning contribution, a trademark blistering strike that gave Birmingham’s John Ruddy no chance on Saturday, was another sign of the frightening talent this lad possesses, as well as how utterly invaluable he is to our potent attacking line.

Indeed, such has been his impact this season, Amad has forced me to break a cardinal rule of supporting Sunderland, and that’s to never grow too attached to a loan player.

After the ‘will he, won’t he?’ saga of Yann M’Vila’s potential return during the summer of 2016, I made a vow that no loanees, regardless of how well they played, would find their way into my affections in the future.

After all, heartbreak inevitably follows when they depart having made a positive impression, but in this instance, it’s a non-negotiable.

As bold a claim as it might be, I really think you’d have to look back to the 1995/1996 season, when a fresh-faced Shay Given arrived at Roker Park and helped us to promotion through a series of frighteningly mature performances, in order to find a loanee of similar age who’s made a comparable impact.

Birmingham City 0 - 2 Sunderland, March 1996 Photo by Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Yes, Jonny Evans was excellent for us during the latter half of 2006/2007 and during his return the following season, and the likes of Danny Welbeck and Danny Rose also played key roles for us at various times in the top flight but for me, Amad’s influence surpasses all of them.

This season, our attacking options have been lethal, even during the absences of Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms, and the Ivory Coast international has been at the heart of many of our best moves, as well as scoring stunning individual goals against Wigan, Birmingham at home and away, and Coventry.

A reasonably slow start and some brief dips in form aside, he’s been a standout performer and has given defences throughout the league nightmares when he’s played at his best.

Fleet of foot, physically robust and with pace to burn, his interplay with the likes of Patrick Roberts has been breathtaking at times and his trickery and ability to make space out of nothing has been the spark behind some of the most thrilling football played by a Sunderland team in years.

What’s more, you always get the sense that Amad is genuinely revelling in his time at the Stadium of Light and as such, his football is being illuminated by the kind of joy that we always love to see.

The combination of a head coach who believes in him, a fanbase who adores him, and a style of football to which he’s perfectly suited have all come together and the end result has been spectacular.

Sunderland v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The fact that Stuart Harvey and Kristjaan Speakman were able to strike a deal with Manchester United to bring him to Wearside is remarkable in itself, and it shows that the club’s reputation for nurturing young prospects is far better than it once was.

Let’s remember that our recent record in the loan market, certainly prior to this season, was at best patchy and at worst, utterly lamentable.

During the League One years, the likes of Laurens de Bock, Lewis Morgan and Declan John (the latter of whom I remain unconvinced actually existed) arrived at the Stadium of Light before making little to no impact whatsoever, and now we’re luring some genuinely exciting talents to Wearside. It’s a scarcely believable change.

That we’re now able to attract players of Amad’s calibre is testament to the cultural shift at the Academy of Light, and the hard work done to overhaul our mentality from one of losing to winning.

The reception Amad received when he was substituted against Birmingham on Saturday was truly remarkable, as the home supporters rose to their feet in appreciation of what they’d seen. It was a moment of total unity, something very special indeed.

Sunderland v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It’s going to be a sad day when he heads back to Old Trafford, but he’ll leave having secured a place in the hearts of the fans and played an enormous role in helping us to compete strongly during our first season back in the Championship.

Let’s enjoy every minute of him in the red and white during the final games, and hopefully he can conclude his time here on a genuine high.

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