John McCormick writes: M Salut is out of contact as he makes his way from the depths of France to Swansea, so it’s down to me to keep things ticking over – [thanks – M Salut] – until he returns to tell us how the Lads played. This means it’s me you can blame for the small picture of our guest writer Michael Lough, who whets our appetites for Saturday by giving us his views on the Bardsley saga. You might be feeling a bit of déjà vu if, like me, you’ve just come away from the ALS website, whose almost simultaneous posing of a similar question is pure coincidence. My advice – read on, you can never have too much SAFC. Now, over to Michael …
There is nothing modern football loves more than a saga. Whether it’s a contract renewal, a training ground scrap, or a player-manager relationship; heated debate and media frenzy is bound to follow.
This is certainly the case with long-serving full back Phil Bardsley who for many years was regarded as a bit of “cult-hero” on Wearside, even winning the supporters’ player of the season award in 2011. This was a comeback against the odds for Bardsley as Steve Bruce had deemed him surplus to requirements. After a summer of rigorous training he had forced his way back into the manager’s reckoning and was a consistent figure at left back for much of the campaign. His “no nonsense” defending combined with his evident passion for the club and the occasional thirty yard screamer elevated him to a favourite on the terraces.
Unfortunately, his reputation has taken a serious blow after a season of inept displays, drunken antics, and social media stupidity. The Salford-born full back has already demonstrated he is capable of defying the odds; can he do it for a second time?
As soon as images of Phil Bardsley lying covered in £50 notes were plastered all over the internet his Sunderland career appeared to be over. Fans understandably were angered at not only his drunken state, but the disrespect he showed with such a public display of his riches. This was added to by Paolo Di Canio publicly condemning him and stating an intention to sell him. Despite this, most fans were not overly antagonistic, reflecting that although his actions were stupid and irritating, he had served the club well. It was only on August 17 that Bardsley became public enemy number one, by openly mocking the club’s opening day defeat to Fulham. This is still the problem. Fans can forgive poor displays; after all, we have all endured Jeff Whitley and co, but one thing that is unforgivable is to make a mockery of either the fans or the club and he managed to do both simultaneously.
Therefore, fans are perfectly justified in wanting him to be dismissed from the club. However, while such a stance is easy to make with regards to a limited footballer such as Phil Bardsley would it be made had Giaccherini committed similar actions? If Poyet was to completely omit the Scottish international he would set a precedent that no transgressions would be tolerated, meaning that he could lose one of the club’s top players in the future. Such a stance is fine but certain supporters may feel conflicting emotions at such rigidity.
For purely footballing reasons Bardsley epitomises much of what has been wrong at Sunderland for years. His on-field commitment cannot be questioned, but he is lacking ability and in ideal world would be moved on. Sadly, given our lack of options at right back it would be foolish to disregard him completely. Celuska has been solid enough, but if he was to sustain an injury we would be woefully short at fullback. Removing Craig Gardner from a three man midfield would leave us short of options in centre midfield as well as at fullback. So even letting him “rot” in the reserves would be counterproductive for Sunderland.
From a personal view point, I believe it would be great for the club to simply terminate Bardsley’s contract as it would demonstrate progression and a wealth of alternative options. However, for reasons already stated, we need to accept him back into the fold for at least the short term. Irrespective of how the issue is resolved it would be best for all concerned if Bardsley were to make a public, non-choreographed apology to the fans. His silence can easily be interpreted as arrogance and he has much to prove if he is to be accepted again by the Sunderland faithful.