CRAIG GARDNER holds no grudges against Martin O’Neill for selling him while manager of Aston Villa.
And now the midfielder is glad to be part of the new Sunderland boss’s plans second time around.
Gardner was just a young player coming through the ranks at Villa Park when he was allowed to move on to Birmingham City in a deal worth £3million in January 2010.
The move worked out for the then 23-year-old who went on to become a first-team regular at St Andrews, scoring 10 goals in 37 appearances for the Blues last season, as well as being part of the team that won the Carling Cup.
And O’Neill has gone on record recently saying Gardner has improved as a player since he was last under his charge.
O’Neill (pictured below) said: “It was tough for Craig at Villa because he had a string of full England internationals ahead of him at the time.
“But he has benefited from playing regularly since then and he is a better player now.”
Gardner, though, says that he was the author of his own exit at Villa Park, revealing: “To be honest, I’ve read a bit about the gaffer selling me previously, but it doesn’t really paint the full picture.
“The truth is I wanted to leave, I was desperate to go because I wasn’t getting games and that’s why I was allowed to move – I was pestering him every day about going because I wanted to play football.
“The gaffer didn’t want me to leave, but I needed to go because I knew that reserve-team football was no longer any good for me if I was going to develop as I wanted to.”
Gardner had seen enough of the Northern Irishman, though, to know that he would love to play for him again and he has enjoyed seeing his team-mates at Sunderland begin to appreciate the abilities of the new manager.
“The way he turned Aston Villa around was unbelievable and the way he has turned Sunderland around is unbelievable,” mused the 25-year-old, who cost the Black Cats £5million last summer.
“Some people say he’s a genius, some people say he’s lucky; but he can’t be lucky because he does it every time.
“He’s just a top bloke and a top, top manager.”