Sunderland legend Kevin Phillips believes the Black Cats would be a Championship club had they kept hold of Josh Maja.
Maja was Sunderland's top scorer last season with 16 goals but left midway through the season to join French side Bordeaux.
His future featured heavily in the latest series of Sunderland 'Til I Die, which was released on Netflix last week, as Sunderland owner Stewart Donald looked to tie him down to a new deal.
But when that failed, Sunderland cashed in on Maja with his contract set to expire at the end of the season.
Sunderland replaced him with the signing of Will Grigg but the Northern Ireland international is yet to reach double figures in the goal charts.
The Black Cats missed out on promotion, losing in the League One play-off final, but Phillips is certain they would have gone up had they kept Maja at the club.
"You would have to say they would have been in the Championship had he have stayed. He was on fire," Phillips told Football Insider.
“When you watch the Netflix series it highlights how important he was to the football club – important goals. Maja is a natural goalscorer. Since he has left they have not replaced him. Nobody has come in and set it alight.
“It was clear it was a money option. For a young lad, staying at Sunderland would have been ideal. If he scored the goals to take them up he would forever be in the hearts of the fans.”