The three pivotal transfer decisions that Sunderland must get right this week

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The Black Cats are expected to publish their retained list this week

Word on the street is, Bradley Dack is leaving Sunderland. If you’re worried you might miss him, you can always catch him again on ITV2 +1. At the moment, we have little more to go on than the wispy smoke signals of social media conjecture, but assuming this truly is the end, the reality TV star/training gallery photo bomber might end up going down as one of the more baffling recruitment decisions of the Speakman era. And that really is saying something.

According to reports, the Black Cats will publish their retained list this week, and in the process, will answer a number of pressing questions about the respective futures of various precariously-perched first team presences. Dack is, of course, one of them, but keen, twitching eyes will also be fixed on the likes of Corry Evans and Callum Styles.

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As yet, there is no concrete indication as to the club’s intentions for any of that trio - despite the white-knuckled efforts of supposed in-the-know accounts - but the general consensus is that Dack and Evans are goners, and with a pivotal summer lurching over the horizon, for many, this will be the first meaningful signifier of how exactly Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and his boardroom minions plan to atone for everything that has happened in the wake of Tony Mowbray’s dismissal last year.

To that end, Dack’s expected departure will likely be the least shocking and therefore the least debated. Aside from a taunting strike in September’s 5-0 win over Southampton (a memory from another lifetime) and that Psycho Path video at Halloween in which he seemed to sustain genuine and lasting psychological trauma, the 30-year-old has done remarkably little of note during his time on Wearside.

Of course, the understanding is that he was signed in a bid to appease the aforementioned Mowbray, who had developed a real fondness for him during their shared stint at Blackburn Rovers. Instead, plagued by injury and separated from his most vocal proponent, Dack will likely leave the Stadium of Light beneath the hissing fizzle of a wasted opportunity.

And then there is Evans. In many respects, his is a much more complex case. The Northern Irish midfielder was, prior to the cruciate ligament implosion that derailed his campaign, a vital presence for Sunderland; a grizzled coal stoker in the engine room - experienced, combative, metronomic. Indeed, his is exactly the kind of influence that the Black Cats have been sorely lacking at gut-wrenching junctures in recent times, and the prospect of him leaving will have Mackems everywhere weeping into their blue drink and breaking out in hives at the notion of another transfer window blindly adhering to the teachings of ‘The Model’. (All hail The Model.)

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But here’s the thing; Evans’ exit would sort of make sense. We are talking about a 33-year-old who has played just 66 minutes of Championship football this season, and who is coming off the back of a knee injury that could hugely hinder his effectiveness in this, the twilight of his career. That’s not to say that Sunderland fans shouldn’t be wary about the looming possibility of him leaving, but provided the scouting department have stumbled upon even a grain of common sense and aren’t planning to replace him with a teenager from the Spanish second tier, this doesn’t feel like the biggest catastrophe ever. It is understandable that supporters have their reservations, but there is also no point in assuming the worst when it hasn’t happened yet.

And finally, we have Styles - a head-scratcher if ever there was one. Unlike Dack and Evans, the 24-year-old is not a Sunderland player, and the publication of the retained list will only confirm the end of his loan stint in the North East. Crucially, however, it could also mark the watershed after which a decision is made on whether his stay at the Stadium of Light is made permanent or not. (Mason Burstow finds himself in a similar position, but I would like to think at this stage that I have more chance of being offered a contract by Kristjaan Speakman than the Chelsea starlet does.)

It has been a mixed handful of months for Styles. Then again, it has been a mixed handful of months for everybody in red and white stripes. At times he has looked woefully unequipped for the promotion charge that KLD and his underlings are presumably, somehow, still dreaming of next season, while at others he has been admirably dependable and pleasingly versatile.

Perhaps, then, this will come down to price. If Barnsley are willing to cash in for a relatively modest fee, and if Sunderland are eager to add a little bit of depth to a squad that has been spread gossamer-thin over the past couple of seasons, then you’ll hear no wild, frothing objections from me.

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Really though, whatever the Black Cats decide to do this week, the key is going to be how they amend for it over the rest of the summer window. Pass on Styles? Just make sure you bring in players to fully stock the centre of midfield and the flanks of defence instead. Offload Evans? For the love of all that is holy, sign another experienced Championship general in his place. Bid farewell to Dack? Get on the blower and see if Arg from TOWIE is kicking about. There’s a big rebuild coming on Wearside, and these are only the first tentative steps of many. Please, please, lads, don’t get this wrong.

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