As Paddy McNair looks to leaving the Stadium of Light for pastures new, we examine why this actually may be a good thing...
These are surely dark times for us all.
Shoppers stop dead in the streets, rain starts to ebb from the sky, and a collective moan can be heard breezing along Millenium Way. The whispers have turned to murmurs, to chatter, to national speculation. Paddy McNair looks to be on his way out.
Whichever way you swing it, the Paddy-shaped gap left behind could only be a bad thing for the team. The fans? They'd be far happier had he'd stayed.
Apart from me, that is.
Oh, I know he's highly rated and have been impressed by his desire and technical ability. But I believe he needs to go. It was a cord that needs to be cut.
As I type these words, I can already feel the heat from the McNair faithful. So before your device of choice melts through your fingers, let me plead for my safety.
This isn't a vendetta against the man – like I say, he's impressed me both as a player and a person – it's more of a pros-and-cons type situation.
As far as I see it, the case for McNair staying is built on three key arguments. So, let me try and bust some myths and see where that leaves us...
"We could have built a team around him."
It's always made sense to me secure a central midfield dynamo for your squad and write your plans around him.
We've seen European giants do much the same and find success. At their height, Xabi Alonso, Pirlo, and Schweinsteiger were often the first name nailed to their team sheets because they were the marshalls who led the defence and orchestrated the attack.
Now we are by no means giants, but the premise is still the same, and other armchair warriors of Wearside are in agreement – a happy and healthy McNair could prove to have been our discount De Bruyne.
But happy? And healthy? That's far from reality.
Paddy could only muster up 1070 minutes in the Championship this season, and this wasn't a case of being out of form or favour. According to Transfermarkt, Paddy McNair has tallied 355 days of injury, and missed 48 games since joining the Black Cats in 2016.
While this is unfortunate and by no means his fault, can we really expect to rely on a player who has literally missed more games than he's played?
And as for his happiness, while I'm sure he's enjoyed his time on Wearside, it sounds like he's ready to pull the plug on his career in the north east. Martin O'Neill is certainly an authority on that point:
"[McNair's] running power and quality is evident to see, and he is so determined to get back to the Premier League and hopefully he gets that chance."
Okay, so maybe his desire to get himself back into a bigger league would drag Sunderland along with him if he remained. But after he's had Premier League interest in the form of Brighton, I doubt our young superstar's turned head could be re-aligned.
"He was a bright spark in an underwhelming season."
Injury limited his opportunities to prove himself while he was here, but when he got his chances he took them. Right?
Well, let's examine that point.
I compared McNair's stats per game (available through Squawka) against those of George Honeyman, Lee Cattermole, Didier Ndong, Darron Gibson, and Ethan Robson and this is how he rated:
* Successful passes = 18.5 (6th)
* Chances created = 0.29 (6th)
* Interceptions = 0.14 (6th)
* Tackles won = 0.57 (6th)
In other words, compared to his closest rivals this season, McNair came dead last in all four of these important metrics.
True, he carried a real attacking threat and Sunderland racked up more points when he was involved, but not by much.
In the games McNair played, Sunderland averaged 0.875 points per game – if he was able to maintain this over the course of the season, Sunderland would have finished with 40.25 points.
In other words, we still would have finished last.
"He would have been the best player in League One."
This is a stranger one to argue against, and something I've heard fans get quite passionate about.
Given that our Player of the Season is gone, and the list of names you'd expect are already eyeing the door, I believe that he'd definitely be our best player next year.
I also have no reason to doubt that he'd be one of the best players (if not the absolute best) in the league next season.
But this way of thinking misses the point.
It doesn't matter how good he is. If his name isn't Lionel and he doesn't play for Argentina, he won't single-handedly turn our fortunes around.
He's not an "invaluable" asset, either. The latest rumoured sum was £5 million. If that's anywhere near reality, it's an insane amount of money for a League One side to grubby its hands on.
We know that the club is getting a "significant" cash injection from the new owners, but it's going to take an outstanding amount of green to achieve the overhaul needed.
Plus, it has to happen sooner rather than later. To borrow an expression from Alan Partridge... we need revolution, not evolution.
There are signings needed in every area of the pitch and, if we need to sacrifice one luxury player to secure them, it's a no-brainer.
Out of context, in an objective reality, keeping hold of McNair would be our top priority. But in a world of money, necessary change, and fresh beginnings, so is getting rid.