Goldy’s logic: O’Neill’s Villa raid – what now for Bardo?

In the second part of his close season pondering, Stephen Goldsmith considers the defensive options of MON and (never short to put forward his views) suggests that despite the manager’s first signing, he give some serious thought to who fills the right back position.

Stephen Goldsmith considers the full back position?

Many Villa fans have been extremely quick to have a go at us lot at Sunderland recently. Doubtless this stems from our refusal to acknowledge Darren Bent’s sideward step to Villa as anything other than for financial gain. The clear bitterness a lot of them display towards O’Neill is also apparent. They are quick to slag his signings off and at a quick glance some of them do indeed look poor. But the actual fact is that Shorey, Davis and Warnock who are deemed as being amongst the biggest faliures, were all sought after players and I highly doubt that Villa fans were complaining at the time. Show me a manager who hasn’t made a bad signing or two. A lot of Villa fans have accused me of being obsessed with them on here before, so I better take this oppurtunity to reassure you all that there’s a relevant link to my point, no matter how tedious, and I’m in no way obsessed with Aston Villa. I was having this very discussion with my children Dalian and Atkinson just the other day.

The point I’m eventually getting to is that a lot of Sunderland fans appear to have strung along with this theory without thinking about it rationally. While it’s nothing short of fascinating wondering just which players we are going to sign, I admit it is a tad scary also. But I definitely think we should all take a leap of faith with Martin.

Carlos Cuellar

Carlos Cuellar was pretty safe, it has to be said. No transfer fee and probably more than affordable wages to boot. What his signing does do however, is re-open a whole discussion on a certain player in red and white who has been the centre of debates that I have seen last for hours.

I say with intended sarcasm that I think I may have mentioned in my previous article that I was going to look at the implications of Carlos Cuellar’s arrival on the defenders already at the club. Here is a topic that, at times, would seem to tax even the finest brains from Cambridge and Oxford combined.

I bring you: The Phil Bardsley debate.

Hamish McBardsley by Jake

Sunderland’s right backs have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous in my life time and our current number 2 appears to divide opinion more than any other. Dariusz Kubicki was a fine full back if my childhood memory serves me correctly – as an elegant full back as you will see. John Kay needs no introducing and the bloke was probably as hard as anything anybody will ever come across, but was clearly lacking elegance. But it was Chris Makin who really delivered on the field as a natural right back for me, the kind of which makes attending matches seem worth it. As hard as nails in the tackle, positionally sound and very comfortable on the ball. Watch the highlights of the 2000/01 season and he can be regularly witnessed around the 25 yard mark, often dictating play and offering a lot more in a creative capacity than people automatically give him credit for. It is a rarity that a full back, certainly a Sunderland one, can display genuine qualities in defending one on one, going forward and being positionally watertight. It is a rounded and proper full back that ticks all three of these boxes and Makin was the only one I have seen pull on a red and white shirt in the flesh that done so to high levels.

You see, I have never been one for an ironic cult hero. With the risk of sounding like a miserable bugger, any amount of praise and admiration for somebody like Nyron Nosworthy just evades my common sense radar altogether. It really does. I remember in Nosworthy’s first season, and one game specifically, where he proceeded to carry the ball into an open space similar to that of Barnes Park. Instead of this turning into a viable and effective counter-attack, it resulted in Nyron taking the ball unchallenged, over the touchline for an opposition throw in. It was too crap and funny to start booing so the entire stadium started laughing. It was quite remarkable. Now I am fully aware that he managed to divert attention away from these incidents a little as his effort and determination could not be faulted by anyone. In the 2006/07 season, as the Keane machine steamrolled to promotion, it is also commendable that Nosworthy managed to win player of the season. Some turnaround. Unfortunately the cynicism in me can’t help but conclude that this triumph was a decision made by the general group of supporters who had their judgment clouded by the notable improvement he had made rather than his actual quality. If we had the dreaded ‘most improved player’ award at senior level then a worthy winner he would have been. I wasn’t fooled, however, and the quality of Johnny Evans making his job easier failed to camouflage his actual ability to me.

Nyron does his Frank Bruno impression for the fans

Now some people attempt to put Bardsley into this bracket. When he came second in last season’s player of the year award, it sent Twitter into melt down. The main consensus in the anti-Bardsley brigade was that he was a 100% man lacking in genuine quality. I think there’s an element of truth in that, certainly. He allows too much space behind him at times and too many of his last ditch tackles can be as a result of covering for his own mistakes. He should still be credited for having the recovery ability, however. Could we really expect to see John O’Shea spin and recover with a sliding tackle once he allowed a player to get by him? Only at the cost of a torn hamstring you feel.
A lot of people campaign for John O’Shea to play ahead of Bardsley at right back because he is more defensively sound. It would be hard to argue with that. His undoubted experience at Manchester United and at international level see him hold his line well and generally take up a better defensive position than Bardsley but that, for me, is outweighted by his weaknesses at full back. A modern full back needs to far more mobile than O’Shea and his poor distributional qualities on the ball reduce the flow and speed of our counter attacks far too much for my liking.
I was surprised when O’Shea was employed as right back by Bruce in the first place. Wes Brown spent years playing first choice right back for Man utd and O’Shea always looked much more able as a centre back, so when these roles were reversed it surprised many to say the least. I have a sneaky feeling that O’Shea asked to play right back as a demand to sign for the club as he was playing there for Ireland and maybe wanted some continuity after years of being shifted across the back four by Sir Alex. He was possibily trying to shake this theory that he was a jack of all trades yet master of none. He has shaken that theory off alright, but it comes firmly in the form of being a master in the centre half position, nothing more. I hope so anyway.

Despite the obvious flaws in Phil Bardsley’s game, he is the closest to the most polished right back seen here since Chris Makin. I understand the theory that he is of the standard that you would expect from a mid-table club and not a top half one. And that if we wish to be established firmly in the top ten then we need better players than Phil. Well I actually agree with that. And boy have we have had plenty of right backs prepared to put their heart on the line for the cause despite their limited ability through the seasons, Darren Williams springs to mind. If you switch to the other side of the pitch, Danny Collins also winning player of the season is further proof that you don’t need to be the all round and finely polished full back to be effective and win the fans’ hearts.
But it’s harsh to place Bardsley into this bracket. He may not excel as a top full back but he isn’t out of his depth either. He ticks all the boxes that Makin did to a slightly lower standard. He will need to be replaced soon, of that I’m sure, but it’s hardly a matter of life of death.

Indeed, my stance on him was always this. Full-back is a position which is notorious as one which can carry a player. I suggest there are far more important areas of our team that need strengthening – positions where it would be much more detrimental to carry average players. Until we improve our central midfield, central defence and centre forward positions, it seems illogical to go and spend big on a right back when Bardsley is no major weak link.
Then O’Neill signs Carlos Cuellar!

All the noises coming from the Villa faithful are that Cuellar is a much better centre half than right back. Apparently his positioning is sound but his low mobility and poor distributional qualities make him a very average right back compared to a cracking centre half. How very John O’Shea of him. He seems like a great replacement for Turner on the surface of things. I do also, however, seem to remember seeing on good old Twitter somewhere some stats that show he played more as a right back for O’Neill than centre half.
Hmmm, the mystery goes on.

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20 thoughts on “Goldy’s logic: O’Neill’s Villa raid – what now for Bardo?”

  1. Yes Bent likes his little flat in Spark Brook much better than his quayside Pad on the banks of the Tyne. I think we could have persuaded him to stay if only he could have got himself a semi in Witherwack or Ford Estate.

    People always talk a lot of **** about living in the North East. Man Utd’s players don’t live in Bury or Salford, they live in Cheshire in the stockbroker belt.

    Considering all these Villans are not bitter about O’Neill, they seem very,…………….well,…………………..ehr……..bitter to me………..

    • Born and bred in Ford Estate. Didn’t do me any harm. Got to go, the warder wants to unlock my cell.

  2. G£an signed for Sunderland on a weekly wage for what would be, to almost all of this planet’s population, a fortune if they received it in a year. Even in the developed world his monthly salary would be considered to be a high annual income.

    The prospect of banking £7 million a year with no tax to pay must have seemed even more attractive than a walk along the beach at Bamburgh with only £2million in the coffers. Mercenaries go where the money is and if he feels any attachment to the Middle East which is anything other than financial I’ll eat a dodgy kebab.

    He certainly didn’t go to further his footballing career.

  3. The issue with Bent is that he DID like being here. He was quoted almost on a daily basis saying as much. Ridiculous that you’re suggesting Gyan left because he didn’t like the area. But you know that.

    Players don’t live in Sunderland’s council estates when they play for us you know. If you are implying that Birmingham is more desirable than County Durham or places like Ponteland or, dare I say it, locations in Newcastle such as Jesmond, then that’s just plain nonsense. Stop being silly.

  4. I am a Villan. As above, I didn’t care much for O’Neill’s tactics and refusal to change – players, formations, subs etc. – but my anomosity towards him would stem from the timing of his departure and how it wrecked our pre-season.

    MON made some very poor signings – Harewood, Knight etc. – and made some decent ones (IMO) – Young, Coker, Davies – that he made look poor by the way he used, or rather didn’t use, them.

    And you really need to get over Bent’s move. He obviously didn’t really take to the North East (not uncommon apparently – ask Gyan?) and you got very good money for him.

  5. Question; did you honestly think Gary Cahill was going to become the player he has? Honestly?

    Routledge, Knight, Shorey, Davis, Sidwell. Say what you want but these players were wanted by everybody at the time. Players on the verge of playing for England but things didn’t work out. Am I right?

    • Yes, the guy was and will always be a legend at Villa and most fans wanted him to get a regular run. His bicycle kick goal against Blues in front of the Holte End will live long in the memory. Check back through villa forums and he was heralded as a future England captain, talk to Burnley fans who had him on loan for a season where he won every club and fans player of the season award that year. The day he bought Zat Knight and sold Cahill to Bolton (and he’d already tried to sell him to Birmingham but Cahill had too much class and refused to go to out bitterest rivals!) MON lost his credibility with many Villa fans. If I was a betting man I’d bet on you guys ending up with the likes of Henry and Fletcher from Wolves as MON likes to raid relegated clubs for old fashioned gritty types of player.

    • Oh and as for the point about those players, we paid almost £30m in fees alone but add on wages and that’s the reason we’ve had to take stock on our spending. I haven’t checked the stats I’d be amazed if those players amassed more than 100 prem starts between them under MON so we’ll never know if they’d have worked out. MON has his 11 and irrespective of how poorly one or more of them is playing he won’t change it round. You’ve probably guessed I’m not his biggest fan but I do think he should carry a government health warning for football clubs finances! I hope he does ok for you but don’t be surprised if things turn out the same as they did at the Villa

  6. MON spent big, created a high earning squad and the refused to use them resulting in the likes of Shorey, Davies, Harewood, Routledge, Knight, etc hardly ever playing. He is tactically inept, only plays counter attack tactics and has no plan B for when teams sit deep to counter this so be prepared for lots of goalless draws!! He made countless strange decisions at the Villa such as buying a left back (Shorey) and a right back (Young) and then playing the right back at left back and a centre half at right back and putting the left back on the bench…for an entire season!! He was the only person who had seen both Gary Cahill and Zat Knight play football and decided selling Cahill and buying Knight was a good decision! With the money he spent at Villa we should have been top 4. All I can say is watch out for his transfer strategy of leaving it late and Paying over the odds for English players

  7. MON seems to have a problem with fullbacks. He can’t seem to recognize one or else doesn’t seem able to trust one when he has got one (Luke Young on both counts), he just ends up playing good centre halves (Olof Mellberg and King Carlos) out of position and demoralizes their feeling for the club. Also don’t be surprised if Craig Gardener ends up at full back.

  8. I’m not preaching to anybody mate. Two of your fellow fans have just admitted that the criticism of his signings are over the top.

    The Villa based banter was just following from an article I did few weeks back regarding Bent (and other players’) decisions to move to clubs when they are apparently settled; clubs that appear to be very much on par with the ones they leave. I got a lot of abuse from Villa fans and I’m just having a laugh. Click on my name on home page and check the article out if you like.

    Interesting about O’Neill liking a big and immobile back four. I hope not, but we will see. Abonglahor next I reckon 🙂

  9. Sidwell, Shorey, Davis, Warnock, Harewood, Heskey, Salfou, Routledge, Knight, Halfuid, Beye ???? don’t preach to us about MON …… his tactics are limited, his training methods are ancient and he is absolutely lost when it comes to transfers and spotting value for money talent ….. I thank him for where he took us, it was fun for a while …… I resent him foe leaving our club in a unsustainable financial mess. UTV

  10. Hello

    I’m a Villa fan who still likes O’Neill, liked your Dalian Atkinson line and will forgive you for the Bent nonsense! If MON stays true to his traditional style (and I can see no reason why he’ll change now) he tends to prefer a bigger back four and will sacrifice attacking verve and mobility to get it. Not a problem with a decent dM to bring the ball out and fast wingers to compensate for the full backs. Therefore I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cuellar at RB (especially as he didn’t seem to rate Bardsley when Villa had him on loan).

    Personally I think the criticism of O’Neill’s transfer policy at Villa is over the top. He was given the money he spent it. That’s what managers do. I think he tried to develop a big squad capable of getting into the top 4 and playing in Europe. He didn’t get it right but he wasn’t that wrong. If I have a criticism it’s that he overpaid far too often for safe players then didn’t play them. If he’s kept on a tighter rein re transfer fees and wages I think he’ll do a great job for you.

    Good luck for next season

  11. Hi,

    As a Villa fan, let me assure you that there is no animosity from the AVFC fan-base towards Sunderland. The only hostility towards O’Neill stems from the timing of his departure, the majority of us are grateful for the effort he put in to make the team genuine top 6 challengers (even though the last two seasons have seen a hangover from offering not only big contracts to older players but also very long ones).

    Carlos Ceullar is a good squad player for Sunderland. He will heap pressure on your two centre backs and as he doesn’t complain he’ll improve squad morale. However he’s not going to be a revelation, just a good addition to what looks like a good defence.

    The Villa view is that we would have preferred him to stay. However his non-complaining nature can also be translated into a lack of hunger. After last season Villa need players who will run through brick walls for the team. Sunderland have more to build upon and so have the luxury of integrating a cultured, but immobile, centre back into their side.

    As for Bardsley. He’ll stay at Sunderland. He played badly for Villa on loan and, if memory serves me right, O’Neill tried to sign him. O’Neill has his favourites, shows them loyalty and, in all fairness, they do their best for him. Therefore good or not, he’s going to keep playing. Therefore you may as well give him your support.

  12. Is that Darren Williams z-lister? (only joking Goldy ) I agree that we’ve never really replaced Chris Makin although I do feel that Phil Bardsley is better than a lot of people give him credit for.My own favourite was Darius.Did we ever find out why Reidy dropped him just when he was about to break an appearance record? Two good articles,well-argued and interesting.

    • Thanks Ken. Never got Darren Williams I’m sorry to say.. I travelled the country to watch the lads when he was a regular and I’m afraid he cos us a LOT of points. Don’t like to say it as he gave his all and seems like a really, really nice bloke. I think the way his career panned out after he left proves that he was way out of his depth in the Premier League though.

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