PHIL Bardsley aims to protect a fledgling international career by turning his defensive versatility to his advantage.
The 25-year-old, who was first called up by Scotland last October, finds himself competing for the right-back slot with Spurs defender Alan Hutton – the man who took his position during a loan spell at Sunderland last year.
But Bardsley says while he is happy to challenge Hutton for the role again, he has been producing some of the form of his career for Sunderland at left-back and is just as happy to play there for his country.
“There are some good right backs in the Scotland squad, but the way I’ve been playing lately, I am as confident as anybody,” he said.
“Tottenham are doing well, Alan has been doing well – but I’ve been playing pretty well at Sunderland too.
“It’s up to the manager whichever team he selects. I’ll just focus on doing well in training and hopefully get a start.
“But for Sunderland this season I have played left back and right back and, when called upon, I’ve gone in and done the best I can.
“Whether that’s to play at right-back or left-back or wherever for Scotland, as long as I am in the team I am happy and I will try and do the best that I can for the country.”
Hutton taking Bardsley’s place at Sunderland this time last year was a tough period in the former Manchester United youth player’s career and there were thoughts both from the player and the club that he might be moving on last summer.
But the defender, who spent part of his summer in a training camp with European super-featherweight champion Steve Foster Jr, came back in great shape and successfully fought his way back into Steve Bruce’s plans.
Now he is playing some of the best football of his career and is a contender for the club’s Player of the Year Award.
Bardsley reflected: “I am maturing and I gave myself the best opportunity I could in the summer.
“There were rumours of me leaving Sunderland and I felt I had to do something about it.
“I did a little bit over the summer in terms of getting fit before I went back to training and I’m reaping the rewards now.
“I’ve just been trying to enjoy it as much as I can,” he said.
“If people have watched me, the smile on my face is always there. I am enjoying myself more than ever.
“I would say I’m playing the best football I’ve played for a long time. I’m playing consistently every week and enjoying it.
“If you enjoy your football, I think everything else off the field falls into place.
“You are happy in your life and then that shows on the pitch.
“Hopefully that can continue, because I love playing football.”
H Scotland play Northern Ireland in the new Nations Cup in Dublin tomorrow.