With Asamoah Gyan set for the exit, we look at what might have been at Sunderland.
This summer sees the thoroughly underwhelming end of what could, and probably should, have been one of the most significant tales of Sunderland's recent history. Asamoah Gyan's departure and disassociation with the club has been a long drawn-out affair until, now, where anger once reigned all that remains is a feeling of indifference and disinterest.
What a tragic waste.
It seems a lifetime ago, but when Gyan signed for Sunderland it was, without question, a watershed moment for the club. The first time Sunderland had the profile and pull to aggressively pursue - and get - a stand-out star of a World Cup tournament right when his stock was at its highest.
For a club who just 4 years earlier had endured the humiliation of a second record-breaking relegation of the decade, and just one year earlier had final-day results elsewhere to thank for maintaining their Premier League status, the achievement was a remarkable one.
That was the achievement that Gyan represented, however - Sunderland AFC's transition and inauguration into a bigger and brighter footballing world in which world-renowned players at their peak saw the club as one worthy of entrusting with their reputation.
It started off like a dream, too. Reports quickly circulated of Gyan singing and dancing down the phone to his relatives in Ghana as he signed his Sunderland contract. There was a debut goal of outrageous quality at Wigan, as well, and who could forget his dynamic performance at Stamford Bridge that was so good it drew an impromptu and instantly regretted tribute from Bolo Zenden?
When Darren Bent abdicated his Sunderland throne, Gyan was embraced as his successor. Although, he was quick to acknowledge a certain level of discomfort at suddenly being thrust into a talismanic role for which he didn’t volunteer.
"There’s definitely pressure because Darren has been the main man scoring a lot. I have to keep showing what I can do. As a forward everyone expects you to score because that’s your job."
For a brief spell, he certainly lived up to his billing. Gyan scored the goals to secure the win that prevented derby humiliation from consuming Sunderland's season. In the reverse fixture, he provided the last-gasp equalizer. With the season on a knife-edge when a goal down at home to Wigan in the run-in, it was Gyan who provided salvation. It is difficult to really wrap your head around what apparently went so wrong so quickly.
As a player who has already sampled the difficulties of being over-relied upon by his national side, perhaps he wasn’t prepared to put up with it at his club too. Perhaps his decision to effectively abandon Sunderland was, as widely believed, a simple exercise in selling out his career to the highest bidder in return for the smallest expectations. At the end of the day, only the player himself really knows.
What cannot be called into question, however, is the player’s sad Sunderland legacy. He arrived as a larger-than-life figure, radiant with enthusiasm and promise, yet chose to betray those who embraced him as a hero and did it when they needed one the most. No amount of excuses from his Arabian palace will change that.
People will inevitably compare his general attitude and departure to those of Darren Bent. But one thing you could never accuse Bent of was hiding. On the pitch and around the club, Bent embraced and revelled in the responsibility of being the club's leading light. Asamoah Gyan fled from it, choosing instead to spend his peak footballing years hiding away in a wholly irrelevant footballing backwater.
It is entirely possible that Gyan was battling some personal demons during his spell in the north east. It has been suggested that the sudden death of Alhaji Sly Tetteh, a mentor to Gyan and a giant of Ghanaian football, badly affected the player on a very personal level. Certainly, the Gyan who departed Wearside was a pale shadow of the vibrant and enthralling character that arrived.
Not that it really matters, of course. As football fans, we tend to dehumanize footballers. That is our prerogative as the life-blood of the clubs we love. It therefore becomes easy to villainize those who we deem unworthy and ungrateful custodians. It is perhaps unfair but we make no apologies for it, and nor shall we ever. Gyan let the club down. Ultimately, that is all that matters.
Sunderland will likely get their money back and under Martin O’Neill look well positioned to really progress over the next few years. They have long since moved on from Asamoah Gyan. The anger towards him has subsided. All that actually remains is pity. Pity for the player who turned his back on the spotlight, and proved to have such little regard for a wonderful god-given talent that he chose to hide it away from the world’s eyes.
Gyan's Sunderland story will remain one of what might have been. Although, it's a question that most people stopped caring about getting an answer to a long time ago. In the end, apathy is probably all his Sunderland career deserves.