Sunderland’s loss to Luton may have spoiled Erik ten Hag’s perfect Amad plan

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Sunderland may have inadvertently ruined Erik ten Hag’s masterplan for Amad Diallo at Manchester United by losing to Luton Town in the Championship play-off semi-finals. The Black Cats went into Tuesday’s second-leg meeting at Kenilworth Road with a narrow one-goal advantage following their victory in the reverse fixture but conceded twice to condemn themselves to another season in England’s second tier.

Gabriel Osho got the hosts off to the perfect start inside the opening 10 minutes before a thumping header from Tom Lockyer saw Luton take the lead on aggregate, with the Hatters holding on until the final whistle to book their place in next weekend’s Championship play-off final. There were jubilant scenes after the full-time whistle as the celebrations began and Luton fans will be eagerly awaiting the result of Wednesday’s other semi-final between Middlesbrough and Coventry City in order to find out their next opponents.

Ten Hag is unlikely to have been as jubilant, though, given the dilemma he now faces regarding the future of Amad at Old Trafford in advance of next season. The 20-year-old has been a revelation for Sunderland over the course of the current campaign, scoring 14 goals in 38 league and play-off appearances, but is likely to remain outside of Ten Hag’s first-team setup at United upon his return to Manchester.

It would have made perfect sense for Amad to have gone back to Sunderland on loan next season if the Wearside outfit had managed to achieve promotion to the Premier League, although their failure to go up may have complicated things somewhat. Ten Hag will ideally want Amad to play at a higher level but there is no guarantee that he will adjust as well if he is loaned out to a top-flight side, which could risk harming his development in the long run.

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The Dutchman could even decide to keep Amad at United as a back-up option or for use in domestic cup matches, but this approach would fail to provide the forward with the weekly starts that he has grown accustomed to at Sunderland over the course of his temporary spell at the Stadium of Light. A bit-part role with the Red Devils would also risk stunting his growth as a player in the same way that a poor loan move would, meaning that neither option would be ideal for Amad or United next season.

The other choice, of course, would be another year-long move to Sunderland but it would mean a second successive season of Championship football for Amad, who could reap the rewards of testing himself in a tougher league in order to bridge the gap between his current level and the standard that will be required for him to excel at United.

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Amad has clearly enjoyed his time at Sunderland but is still very much focused on breaking into Ten Hag’s plans at United, with the player himself outlining his ‘dream’ to become a key player for the Red Devils in the not-too-distant future when quizzed on the topic last month.

“I know [the transfer fee] was a lot of money, but I didn’t really think about that, there’s no reason to worry about things you can’t influence,” Amad told FourFourTwo. “I was so happy to sign for Manchester United.

“It’s a club with a massive history, famous all around the world. I haven’t shown my best for them yet, but I hope next season I can return and prove my talent. My dream is to play regular football at Manchester United.”

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