CRAIG Gardner has reaffirmed his commitment to Sunderland after a debut season on Wearside dominated by talk of the midfielder returning to the West Midlands.
But Nicklas Bendtner’s chances of lining up alongside Gardner in red and white next season look increasingly slim after the on-loan Arsenal man admitted there is no certainty that he will join the Black Cats on a permanent deal.
Gardner endured a tough start to life at the Stadium of Light after last summer’s £5million move from Birmingham City, with the 25-year-old starting just five league games under Steve Bruce amid talk that he was suffering from homesickness.
Wolves, who were pipped to Gardner’s signature by Sunderland, and West Brom were both interested in taking the former Aston Villa man back to the Midlands during the January transfer window and it is understood that the Baggies remain keen on him.
But Gardner, who will miss Saturday’s clash with Bolton through suspension, insists he wants to stay at Sunderland beyond the summer after starting the last 18 games under his ex-Villa boss Martin O’Neill.
Gardner said: “Hopefully I will be here next season. I have a contract, so why not?
“I really am happy at Sunderland and feel as if I’m playing some good football.
“I’ve had a good run of games and we’ve pushed on since the manager came in. The fans have hopefully taken to me and seen why the club bought me.
“Hopefully they can see that I give everything when I go out on the pitch. I’d have liked a few more goals, but it’s always harder in your first season.
“I’m happy, but it’s my first season up here and your first season is always difficult.”
Unlike Gardner, Bendtner’s future will be decided in the summer, with the 24-year-old not expected to remain at parent club Arsenal.
The Gunners are willing to accept a cut-price offer for Bendtner, understood to be in the region of £2.5m.
But O’Neill has been coy on whether he will make a bid to take Bendtner permanently, while the Dane’s £60,000 a week-plus bonuses contract at the Emirates is a major barrier towards any deal, regardless of Sunderland’s interest in the striker.
Bendtner said: “Never say never about Sunderland, but it is not certain that I will be here if the opportunity arises.
“About Arsenal, I obviously have to have a chat with the club about it (his future). But it’s not there that the first priority is going to be. I think I have been fairly clear about it.”