Jerome Sinclair went back to Watford last week and so it is impossible to describe his time on Wearside as anything other than a disappointment.
All three parties involved decided it was best to activate a break clause in a loan deal that was planned to run until the end of the season.
The irony is that this was actually the most productive spell of Sinclair’s career so far.
He scored his first league goal, and made more appearances for Sunderland than any of the other four clubs he has played for in his career.
Had Sinclair been a touch younger, then this loan could have been seen as an important first step in his career development.
It was challenging but productive in many ways.
Sinclair can leave Sunderland with his head held high.
His performance levels may have been inconsistent but one thing he never lacked was work-rate. In important games he played his part and if there are any clubs interested in a deal this month, Sinclair has shown he can be trusted to graft and settle into a group.
His departure is a tale partly of bad luck and partly of the kind all too familiar at the top end of the game.
Sinclair was desperately unlucky that a very encouraging cameo on the opening day of the season was cut short by injury.
With Sunderland still light on bodies, the former Liverpool man missed out on a chance to cement a place in the starting XI.
There were some good displays after he returned to fitness but as competition got more fierce, the loanee was somewhat inevitably the one to miss out.
Jack Ross was utterly genuine in praising the application of the player, and there is little doubt that he would have been happy to keep him in the squad for the rest of the season.
Saturday’s draw with Luton Town was a perfect example of a game where Sinclair would have been a useful option to have on the bench.
The bigger picture, though, is that Sinclair needs regular football and Ross knows he cannot guarantee it.
The Black Cats boss knows the importance of promotion and so his January plans involve recruiting a proven goalscorer. For all his good attributes, Sinclair is not that.
And if there is a space for a versatile forward who will mostly be brought on from the bench, why not give that chance to the lively Benji Kimpioka?
After all, there is an obvious incentive for Sunderland to develop the 18-year-old in a way that there was not with Sinclair.
It was an issue for the forward at Birmingham City and if his next club is not carefully selected, it will be the same again.
Sinclair has reached 22 without establishing a defined position and without a long run of first-team football.
It means there is an element of risk on the part of any team who brings him in and that is a similar story for far too many players who are left for too long in the Premier League Academy system.
Spotting a talented young player is easy, but establishing a pathway into the first team is an altogether more complex task.
The loan system is becoming big business for the top clubs.
Getting a player good exposure at a lower level can prove to be lucrative when it comes to a future sale.
Tammy Abraham is a classic example of that, and his loans so far have set him up well for a future career.
For too many, however, the loan system is stunting development.
Ross said Sinclair would ‘take a breath’ at Watford before deciding his next move.
His career is at a crossroads and he might well be served opting against another loan move.
The system has not done a great deal for him so far and while financially it might not be the most attractive option, he needs a club that can be patient with him.
Sinclair proved himself at Sunderland to be a decent player and a good character. Now he needs somewhere to help him develop that promise for the long term.