CRAIG Gardner says out-of-favour Phil Bardsley will be welcomed back with open arms by his team-mates – should new head coach Gus Poyet end the right-back’s exile.
Former Player of the Season Bardsley was bombed out by previous boss Paolo Di Canio in May, when the player’s late-night visit to a casino led to him being left out of the first-team and not included in pre-season training.
The 28-year-old (left) then put himself in even deeper water by mocking Sunderland’s opening day defeat to Fulham under the Italian on social media.
But with Di Canio now sacked and Poyet pledged to wring the very last drop of potential from his squad, the door is potentially open to a return for a player who always gave 100 per cent in a Sunderland shirt.
Poyet said last week that every player would start with a clean slate under him and if that means the rehabilitation of Bardsley into the squad, Gardner says Sunderland players would not object.
“Bardo’s a class player and, while it is the manager’s decision, I think he deserves a second chance,” said Gardner.
“He’s a good player and it was only a couple of years ago that he was our player of the year.
“Hopefully Phil will get that chance again because there is no doubt about his ability.”
Bardsley’s return is not imminent, though, with the full-back having broken his foot while playing for the Under 21s in August.
He is currently working his way back to fitness but with only 45 minutes of second-string football under his belt since May, it will take him time to get back to his best.
Sunderland do not have a problem at right-back, with on-loan Ondrej Celustka having made a solid start to the season in that role and Gardner also proving capable there.
But Gardner’s preferred role is central midfield and he shone there in Sunderland’s last outing against Manchester United, when he gave the Black Cats an early lead.
There is now every chance the ex-Birmingham City man will keep that role in Poyet’s first game in charge at Swansea City this weekend – especially with the Uruguayan intent on putting round pegs in round holes whenever possible.
“The new manager has been brilliant,” said Gardner.
“He has spoken to the lads – or at least all the lads that have been here during the international break – and he wants us to play in our natural positions where possible.
“I’ve played some games at right-back and Jack Colback has played at left-back, but we both prefer playing in central midfield and hopefully we’ll get a chance to do that.
“Of course, when there are injuries it is good to have players who can play in other positions.
“But if Ondrej Celustka or Bardo is fit at right-back, and once Andrea Dossena is fit at left-back, it would allow the manager to use me and Jack in midfield.”