Here's to you, Winniesta - Why every Sunderland transfer should pass the Winchester test
When did Carl Winchester become one of your favourites?
Maybe you're one of us who fell for those little bursts of audacious quality in the early days of his Sunderland career. When the tiring grind of behind-closed-doors football was lit up by a little backheel here, a little Cruyff turn there.
Or maybe you weren't quite sure in those early days. You can admit it here - we won't judge you too harshly. Winchester had arrived from Forest Green to add cover and competition in midfield. By his own admission the step up on and off the pitch was immense, and imposing himself on a regular basis the challenge. For player and for club, it was a calculated gamble that took a while to really pay off.
Maybe it wasn't until the early stages of last season that Winchester became one of your favourites, when Sunderland had no full backs and he found a position in which to thrive. Here we saw something else of the Northern Irishman to go with that touch of class. An impressive engine, a good reading of the game and a good record in 1-v-1 situations.
Maybe it was a longer-term process, Winchester winning you over with every interview that simply fizzed with enthusiasm for Sunderland and the challenge ahead. Take this, from April, when discussing Winchester's new(ish) role on the right of Alex Neil's back three: "See as long as I'm playing... left back? No problem? Go in goal? I'll do a job. To play as many games as I have for a club like this... it's brilliant."
The point is that by the time Sunderland confirmed his loan departure late on deadline day, everybody was a Carl Winchester fan.
The club were tempted to keep Winchester on, not just because of his tactical versatility but because of his infectious personality around the Stadium of Light.
In the long run, though, they believe it vital in selling the club to players that they can demonstrate they won't stand in their way if playing time becomes an issue at some point in the future.
It's not quite time to say goodbye yet: Winchester can, Sunderland say, be recalled in January and no firm decision has been made yet as to what will happen when his contract expires at the end of the season.
It feels right, though, to reflect on Winchester's impact as Sunderland take their next step in their long journey back.
Winchester was a good footballer but he brought so much more to the table. Every recruit is different in style, personality and ability, and all the better for it, but in passing through the Academy of Light they should all pass the Winchester test:a) That moving to Sunderland is seen as a genuine opportunity and privilege
b) That the undoubted requirement for a high level of technical ability is matched by tenacity out of possession
c) That there is a desire to learn and to contribute off the pitchWinchester embodied so much of what was good about the group that finally managed to haul Sunderland from its lowest ebb and back onto an upward trajectory. If this is the end, then let's hope those qualities aren't easily forgotten.
So here's to you, Winniesta. Thankyou for giving it absolutely everything.