GUS POYET believes timing worked against Sunderland in their end-of-season contract negotiations with Phil Bardsley.
Former Sunderland defender Bardsley returns to the Stadium of Light with Stoke City in tonight’s Capital One Cup third round clash after joining the Potters on a Bosman deal during the summer.
Sunderland had looked to extend Bardsley’s six-and-a-half year stay on Wearside following their successful bid to remain in the Premier League last May and held contract talks with the ex-Manchester United man.
But by the time the survival battle was resolved, there was already interest from several Premier League clubs in Bardsley, with Stoke prepared to offer him a three-year deal at the Britannia Stadium.
Poyet told the Echo: “We tried (to keep him). But it was a very difficult time to negotiate, with Phil, Seb (Larsson) and Jack Colback.
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“There are two sides to the story; the club and the players, and the position we were. It wasn’t easy.”
Despite Bardsley moving to pastures new, Poyet believes the 29-year-old deserves a warm reception from Sunderland fans tonight after becoming the club’s record Premier League appearance maker last season.
Poyet handed Bardsley an olive branch following his appointment as Sunderland boss last October after the defender had been frozen out and put up for sale by ex-head coach Paolo Di Canio.
And Poyet believes Bardsley’s return to the fold worked out well for both parties, with the Scotland international reviving his career while helping Sunderland remain in the Premier League and reach the Capital One Cup final
“If Phil plays tonight, it would be nice to see him because my relationship with him has not changed because he left,” said Poyet.
“We helped each other last year. When I arrived, he was in a very, very bad situation – the worst situation that can happen to a football player – as a result of a mistake and he knew that.
“But he wanted to show that he was ready to help the team and he did really help us a lot.
“He was a key performer for long periods, scored important goals and was a part of everything that we did last year.
“I’m pleased for him that he is playing week-in and week-out in the Premier League.
“He helped us stay up and we helped him restart his career, so I don’t think there is any problem between us.”
Bardsley had infuriated Sunderland supporters after being infamously pictured in a casino at the end of the previous season, before mocking the Black Cats’ opening day defeat to Fulham on social media, when he had been ostracised by Di Canio.
But Bardsley returned and produced some of the best performances of his Sunderland career; netting the winner against Manchester City in the Premier League, plus the away goal in the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg at Manchester United.
“I remember the first few games that we played Phil, there was a mix of emotions in the stands,” added Poyet.
“But I think when he scored against Man City and we won the game, everything changed and it was back to normal.
“The goal he scored at Old Trafford helped too!”