Speculation has emerged in the last couple of days about an Amad Diallo return to Sunderland next season. Fuelled by a couple of emojis that he posted, one on a story confirming that Tony Mowbray would remain at Sunderland for the next campaign, a few headlines have emerged that he would return to Sunderland next season if Tony Mowbray was in charge.
Being realistic they seem more likely to be the usual fanciful rumours drummed up to fill up column space in the close season, because if you look at what the player himself said it is nothing like “I want to play for Sunderland next season if Tony Mowbray is head coach”.
He is a Manchester United player, he wants to play for them and he wants to play in the Premier League. He couldn’t deny that he loved playing for Sunderland in the past year, because we all saw he did, but Sunderland are still a Championship team and he will be acutely aware that sentiment will not build the top career that his talent deserves.
Despite this, there can be no doubt that there will be more than just a handful of Sunderland fans who will follow Amad’s career wherever he ends up playing and this raises the question of how Amad, and how Sunderland will fair without each other?
After we concluded our league campaign in sixth place and prepared for two play-off games against Luton, there was an article from one of the main national newspapers which claimed Amad had ‘dragged Sunderland up into the play-off places’. Anyone who has watched Sunderland throughout the last season knows that this is of course, nonsense.
Sunderland reached sixth place thanks to huge contributions from throughout the squad. It has been a feature of this squad that in contrast to our years in League One and the years of decline before it, that there are no passengers.
That aside, we have also been witness to the contribution he has made in the last year and you cant deny that he has looked a cut above in the Championship.
Amad is described as a winger, or a midfielder and one that clearly favours his left foot, but we never really saw him going down the flanks and putting in a cross, particularly on the left side which was Jack Clarke’s domain. Instead he was given the role of linking with Patrick Roberts on the right as more of an attacking midfielder, making runs into the box to create mayhem and cutting inside onto his favoured left foot to have a shot. He made this area of the pitch his trademark ‘Diallo Territory’.
It was a role that Tony Mowbray made for him within this Sunderland team specifically so that he could cut in and have a shot - the head coach loves his forward players to do that - and it was a role that has allowed him to flourish and find his feet as a professional footballer. As he looks forward to Manchester United’s pre-season, the question is will they use him in the same way, or expect him to be an orthodox left winger? If he is, will he be able to have the same impact on games as he has at Sunderland?
Manchester United will have watched him all season and sent reports to Erik ten Hag, so he should be fully aware of what has worked best for him at Sunderland. Also, what will carry him a long way is his ability to change the course of games or make a breakthrough.
His last two Sunderland goals - the ruthless opening goal at Preston and his stunning free-kick against Luton - were both hugely important in the context of the respective matches and set me thinking about how the best players produce the game changing moments just when its needed.
Many years ago one of the top managers of the time - Howard Kendall - was asked what he looks for when signing a striker. He replied that in addition to all the usual attributes he didn’t just look at the number of goals they have scored, but also how many of those goals were the opening goal in the match, or the equaliser and also the goal to put his team ahead. His point was that these are the goals that win you games, or salvage a point and although a player might get the two last goals in a 3-0 win, they were not the all important break-through or game changing moment.
We can debate such stats mean nothing, but as he did win two league titles, lets assume that Howard Kendall might have known a thing or two.
Amad isn’t a striker but he has been a regular goalscorer and taking the above criteria I looked at how many of Amad’s goals for Sunderland would fit the ‘crucial goal’ tally.
The answer? 9 out of 14 goals - or 64% - which is a huge amount.
That Amad produced so many game changing goals backs up that he has the ability, and the strength of character to go all the way. He embraced his loan move to Sunderland and fully bought into the cause. Contrast his attitude with another particular Manchester United loanee of the past - Adnan Januzaj- who had all the skill and ability of Amad but from some reports felt he was too good to be at Sunderland. Still only 28, he is currently playing in Turkey.
As for Sunderland, I will be surprised but delighted if we can find someone to fill that role as effectively next season. Patrick Roberts is fully capable of causing just as much havoc as Amad cutting in from the right, but from observations doesn’t quite have the same amount of power in his shot to beat a keeper all ends up that brought so many goals to the Ivorian. However, not having a player of the calibre of Amad shouldn’t be a setback as for one thing our striking options should be a lot better by the time of the new season and hopefully available for the duration of the campaign.