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"Devastated" Bardsley Symbolic Of Sunderland Struggles

A beleaguered Phil Bardsley is said to be ready to try and fight for his Sunderland future. But is this kind of desire only kicking in during desperate times not indicative of the wider problems at the Stadium of Light?

Jamie McDonald

Phil Bardsley is a figure at Sunderland who perhaps inspires debate like no other player. He has done so for a few years now and you suspect he will continue to do so up until the day he leaves the club.

If reports are to be believed, that day may be close following a high profile and quite public spat with Paolo Di Canio over images of the full back flat on his back at a casino in the early hours of the morning surrounded by £50 notes - an incident his manager described as 'inexcusable' and 'disgusting'.

According to an exclusive from Mark Douglas in The Journal, the situation may not be as clear cut as first thought, with Bardsley apparently remorseful and keen to fight for his future at the club having been left "devastated" by the incident.

Personally, I hope he doesn't get that chance.

Forget the Casino situation. That isn't important. It may have brought it all to a head, but frankly as a fan I have found most of his defending over his Sunderland career more offensive to my senses than that. It was blown up out of all proportion.

Football reasons alone can make a case for Bardsley being shown the door, but that isn't the point either.

The point is that Phil Bardsley as both a player and a professional perfectly encapsulates everything wrong about Sunderland during his spell with the club.

That's a bold statement, I know, and anyone who follows me on Twitter or listened to our Podcasts know I have never been a fan of the former Manchester United man.

But if you are thinking that this is just someone with an agenda sticking a boot into a player at an opportune time and trying to make him a scapegoat for everything that has gone wrong in the last five years or so then I'll have to stop you there. Let me stress that in no way am I suggesting Phil Bardsley is to blame for the mess that Sunderland have got themselves into.

What I am saying is that Bardsley is simply symbolic of it.

Bardsley has been at Sunderland for all but six months of the six years since the club's last promotion. For that, he deserves some credit. Love him or hate him, being part of five full seasons of top flight football on Wearside isn't something many others can lay claim to in the last 60 years or so.

It has been how the club have spent those five years that is so difficult to digest, however. Throwing fortunes at mediocrity, without much serious planning and commitment to genuine development and improvement. Just appearing to be happy to stick around in the Premier League rather than striving to excel or surpass it by launching a serious bid for European football. Going through the motions at the best of times and just plainly taking it for granted during the worst.

Can any different really be said of Phil Bardsley's career at the club?

When he arrived he initially made a good impression. He was never a world-beater and you could tell he wasn't ever going to be, but he did a decent job in a poor side. Decline the following season followed, however, before the next was spent coasting to such a degree that Steve Bruce decided his days at the club were numbered.

In fact, Bruce even went so far as to transfer list the defender. The former Sunderland manager recalls: “Maybe he got a shock. I think the biggest thing was not getting a game regularly and having to roll up his sleeves and fight for his place and a contract. We had constant battles that he was not right physically.”

Bardsley responded to the threat to his position at the club by taking to the boxing ring over the summer and getting himself in the best shape of his career. His best season then followed and no one could say that he didn't earn his place and a new contract.

What should have been a platform and a blueprint for further improvement, however, was instead seen as a completed project.

The second the ink was dry, he seemed to decide his work was done and he could go back to coasting. There would be no more off-season dedication to his conditioning. Without a new deal to earn himself, there was apparently no drive to re-dedicate himself to the routine to which he owed his position.

It all eerily mirrors Sunderland's performance and attitude as a whole footballing side of the club (beneath Ellis Short at least) during the same time - the more secure they feel in their mediocrity, the less driven they become to surpass it and the worse the performance becomes until a desperate effort is required to protect that which had been taken for granted.

With all due respect, Phil Bardsley knows that Sunderland AFC is as good as it is ever going to get for him from this point onwards. It would be difficult to envisage him finding a bigger club playing at a substantially higher level willing to take him.

He obviously knows it too given the fact that he only ever pulls his finger out when he feels under threat before sinking back into the safety of his comfort zone when he has successfully protected it. That is the kind of attitude Sunderland need to rid themselves of.

Bardsley is far from the only culprit but any detectable trace has to be eradicated. It is the attitude that infects and rots the very core of the club itself.

In it's place there needs to be players with a whole different kind of ambition. Players who, rather than only being motivated to defend what they already have, aspire to be more than Sunderland can currently offer them.

I know that doesn't really sound like the great footballing dream - to have players essentially determined to use your club as a stepping stone. It won't appeal to many egos among the support.

But having talented footballers who can drive the club forward on their way through has to be preferable to mediocre ones anchoring the club down with a determination to stick around, hasn't it?

I've certainly seen enough of the latter to fully endorse taking my chances with the former.

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