Craig Gardner: Five Million Pound Flop, Or Is There More To Come?

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MAY 01: Craig Gardner (#8) of Birmingham looks dejected after getting his second yellow and then a red card during the Barclays Premier League match between Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers at St Andrews on May 1, 2011 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Craig Gardner. Remember him? Well if you can't it's actually sort of understandable. Signed in the summer from Birmingham City for a fee rumoured to be around five million pounds, and someone we all thought would be a lynch-pin for us this season. A goal-scoring midfield dynamo we thought, however he rapidly seems to be turning into a forgotten man.

Craig has spent more than an entire month (October 17th to November 21st) on the subs bench, and seeing the likes of a semi-injured David Meyler, fellow fitness struggler Ji Dong-Won and even young whipper-snap Ryan Noble come on ahead of him. So where's it all going wrong, and is it right that he's been axed?

Lets have a poke around...

We'll take it back to when we signed him, and expectation surrounding him upon signing. We spoke to a Birmingham City fan to get the low down on him at the time (clicky-click), and were warned of some dangers with Craig, even if they are yet to really appear in a Sunderland shirt...

His only really good games were in the cup run. He is hot-headed and gets into trouble very easily.

It wasn't all bad, as our Brummie friend also told us of Craig that he could have went on to be a club legend at the Blues had he stayed, and reminded us of the fact he's got a decent shot on him.

Back when we had some "Quick Picks" from the local and national media pre-season on things like best signing, predicitons and of course predicted flops, Richards Mason was almost Nostradamus-esque in his ascertainment of Gardner...

I'm going to stick my neck out here and say Craig Gardner. When Steve Bruce has a full squad to choose from, I don't see where everyone will fit in the midfield. If Bruce wants pace on the wings, he'll likely start with Elmohamady and Larsson as wingers, with Cattermole and an attacking midfielder through the middle. So that's Richardson, Gardner or Vaughan. Or Sessegnon if he plays five in midfield. I reckon Bruce will opt for Vaughan.

Thanks for that Richard, if you could give me next weeks lottery numbers too that would be grand!

Steve Bruce was quick to praise his new signing when he signed, speaking to the clubs official website Bruce said a few things about Craig which were a mix of compliments and contradictions with what's actually happened...

He has wonderful energy and enthusiasm for the game and that will stand us in good stead as we plan for the start of the new season. One thing I highlighted last season was the need to get more goals from midfield and in Craig we've got a player who's certainly able to do that.

So we have contrasting opinions from the off, and to this day we're no further down the line in finding out who the real Craig Gardner is, if he exists at all! Perhaps we should ask the man himself? Well we don't have any access to that sort of thing, we're "just a fans site" to quote some higher-ups, but luckily in 2007, FourFourTwo spoke to the man himself...

I've always been a box-to-box midfielder. I like to think that I can put my foot in, break up play, and also have a good range of passes.

Personally, I don't think we've seen that from Craig yet. He seems to be more than willing to get in one box, but not so keen on the other. Which is fine, if he's doing the business in front of goal, but unfortunately he isn't. An awful miss you may recall at Swansea sticks in the mind, whilst his goal against Stoke City was aided by deflection. 

This is backed up by the stats site WhoScored.com, who show that Gardner has more shots per game than anyone in the current squad barring Stephane Sessegnon, whilst only managing that one goal.

So having noticed about his goalscoring, or lack of it, what about his "good range of passes" to quote the man himself. He might have a good range, but when it comes to passes that matter, Gardner is lacking there also. His measly 0.4 key passes per game has been more than doubled by the likes of Phil Bardsley and Ahmed Elmohamady. We should also add his pass completion is below the likes of Vaughan, Meyler and Colback, and only 0.3 ahead of Lee Cattermole. Gardner is also yet to put in an accurate cross or through-ball.

For a "box-to-box" midfielder, he does indeed make a lot of tackles, at 2.1 per game, but again, this is behind Lee Cattermole and David Vaughan who both trump him on that front, and only marginally ahead of Jack Colback. Without wanting to run down every single stat, he's also last among the central midfielders for interceptions per game, one of the most often dribbled past midfielders, whilst also lowly in clearances.

I wish I could point out once again that stats mean nothing if you're doing it on the pitch, but that's not particularly happening in the eyes of the fans either. My fellow Roker Reporters chipped in with comments. Dan Williams added...

His performances in midfield this season have been more Frank Butcher than Frank Lampard. Seemingly over-eager to please, Gardner takes potshots at goal when there are far better options around him, and at times, has more than an air of a headless chicken. Pairing him with Lee Cattermole was something of a disaster, and it quickly became quite depressing to see them both charging around the field, making very little impact at all.

Frustratingly, when he played alongside David Vaughan, it looked like we might have the makings of a very good central partnership, and it is perhaps just the guile of Vaughan that Gardner needs to really shine.
I certainly wouldn't write him off yet.

So what are we left with? What have we bought? As much as I wanted him to succeed and become a sort of 'new Don Hutchison' scoring goals from the middle of the park, all stats and opinions seem to lean towards Gardner becoming a flop, and he rightly finds himself on the bench as a perennial unused substitute, and you'd think he will be for the majority of the season to come.

Craig's certainly not going to be entering 2012 as he has imagined. To recall the earlier 2007 interview with FourFourTwo, when asked where he's be in five years time...

I'll be playing in the Champions League with Villa and challenging for the Premiership.

Such youthful ambition. It appears he'll have to fight his way into a mid-table Premier League side first, and it's going to be a hard fight at that, but it's nice to aim high.

Feel free to leave your own comments on Gardner thus far in the appropriately named 'comments section' below, or indeed vote in our poll.

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