THERE HAS been an obsessional element to Paolo Di Canio in his quest to land a creative midfielder.
Ever since Di Canio revealed to the Echo in Hong Kong his desire to sign a playmaker capable of “unlocking the doors”, it has taken priority above all other requirements in the Italian’s transfer wish-list.
After seeing number one target Tom Huddlestone join Hull City, Di Canio last week uttered the desperate plea to Sunderland’s hierarchy that “even a loan” would suffice for this pivotal figure.
But that measure should set the alarm bells ringing.
If Di Canio genuinely wants to revolutionise this football club in the long-term, then Sunderland can no longer afford to be the loan rangers.
Loan arrivals from the Continent – which admittedly has been Sunderland’s chosen market this summer – are fine, given that a permanent clause is always built into the deals.
The Ondrej Celustka move, for example, gives Sunderland the opportunity to gauge the Czech right-back’s ability and potential before deciding whether to take up the option of keeping him at the Stadium of Light, rather than allow him to return to parent club Trabzonspor.
It is an essentially an extended trial period, without the long-term financial commitment if the arrivals prove to be a dud.
Sunderland could thankfully wash their hands of Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Kader Mangane after seeing there was no value in keeping them.
And they were able to gain the benefits of a quality performer like John Mensah for a couple of years, without being hamstrung by a contract which would inevitably have been dominated by his time on the treatment table.
But it is the domestic loans which Sunderland must strive to steer away from, particularly if Di Canio still wants his midfield linchpin to be English.
On a short-term basis, Sunderland have benefited enormously from taking young players from their Premier League peers.
The likes of Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck and Danny Rose justifiably became fan favourites during their tenures at the Stadium of Light, and Sunderland were eager to keep each of the trio.
But, crucially, they didn’t.
Manchester United and Tottenham would not countenance the possibility of selling them, and rightly so given their subsequent development.
But after these players returned to their parent clubs, Sunderland landed back at square one.
They’d lost the services of one of their key figures, yet had nothing to show financially for the development work they had done with players who arrived on Wearside as raw talent.
Losing Welbeck on top of Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan was a blow which Steve Bruce could not recover from.
Bruce subsequently realised the Catch-22 situation of the loan market and went to the other end of the scale by splashing out £8million on a 17-year-old, who would potentially have a long-term impact.
That backfired because Sunderland were left with little in the here and now, yet the former Black Cats boss had realised a problem which Sunderland repeated again last season.
With less than a fortnight remaining of this transfer window, Sunderland still have not found a specialist replacement for Rose, even if Jack Colback is a more than competent re-branded left-back.
The sight of Rose starting and impressing for Spurs at Crystal Palace last Sunday, merely under-lined Andre Villas-Boas’s assertion that the 23-year-old would be a fixture at White Hart Lane this season, with Sunderland never given a sniff of encouragement during the summer.
If Sunderland were a newly-promoted team, desperately trying to claw their way to survival, then any youngster from one of the Premier League heavyweights would be welcomed.
Hull, for example, cannot be lambasted for taking a punt on Spurs midfielder Jake Livermore on a season-long loan.
Like the Tigers, Sunderland’s priority is remaining in the Premier League, yet an element of long-term planning must also come into the transfer thinking at the Stadium of Light.
This is not a club in the first or even second year of their top-flight existence.
This is Sunderland’s seventh successive campaign of Premier League football; they should have graduated beyond the era of stop-gap measures.
There may well be instances where a quality player is available on a temporary basis from one of the big boys.
He is not a target for the Black Cats, but someone such as Manchester United winger Nick Powell would be an attractive proposition for those in the lower reaches of the Premier League table.
But Sunderland may have to take the option of signing a less polished player in the hope that, two or three years down the line, he becomes a gem.
Even if that is to the detriment of results over a few months, it is a more palatable policy than going back to square one, without passing go or collecting £200.