FORMER top prospect Louis Laing’s Sunderland career is hanging by a thread.
The 21-year-old is out of contract this summer and whether he is offered a new one looks like being dependent on which league the Black Cats are playing their football in next season.
Should Sunderland stay up, the club are likely to look in a different direction and the young defender will be on the look-out for another club.
But if Gus Poyet’s men go down, the centre-half is likely to be given another chance to show he can be involved as the Black Cat bid to revive themselves in the Championship.
The situation has arisen because Sunderland are looking at vastly different scenarios this summer depending on whether they remain in the richest league in the world, or find themselves have to cut their cloth to Championship standard next season.
The future direction of the club will be radically different depending on which division Sunderland go on to play in.
And for Laing, the crossroads could not be starker with his own personal future hinging on the outcome of Poyet’s bid to beat the drop.
The club has already begun to look at next season in terms of their emerging players set-up with several youngsters told they will not be offered new deals for the new season.
But Laing finds himself in the unusual position of his future depending upon Sunderland’s immediate league status.
It is a strange situation for a young player who was once regarded as undoubtedly the next homegrown Academy product set to make the breakthrough at Sunderland several seasons ago.
Laing was a couple of years behind the impressive youth class which spawned Jordan Henderson, Jack Colback and Martyn Waghorn.
But he was still rated in the top bracket in terms of potential young prospects.
And several top scouts regarding him at one time as potentially the best young defender to come out of the North East in a generation.
Comfortable in possession, a fine reader of the game and confident passer, the only question mark appeared to be whether he was tough enough and nasty enough to make it as a top-class centre-half.
The 6ft 2ins Tynesider has been at Sunderland since 2009 and has represented England at Under 16,17, 18 and 19 level.
For many, he was destined for the top but so far he has made only one first-team appearance - when he came on as a substitute for John Mensah in a 3-1 defeat to Wolves in May 2011.
He spent a spell on loan at Wycombe Wanderers from January to May 2012 but he has also endured a succession of injuries during his time at the club and his future remains uncertain.