In the January of 2007, Roy Keane set about strengthening his team. He’d had a few months to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of the squad he’d inherited, and added Carlos Edwards, Stern John, Jonny Evans and Márton Fülöp to the raft of signings he’d made days after his late-August arrival.
Another player who he signed was Danny Simpson, the right-back joining the club on loan – but only after an attempt to sign Phil Bardsley had been unsuccessful; the highly-rated defender choosing to join Premier League Aston Villa on loan rather than linking up with his former Manchester United skipper.
A loan to Championship club Sheffield United followed, and in January 2008 the Blades tried to make the deal permanent.
Dean Whitehead had done an admirable job filling in at right-back but, alerted to Bardsley’s availability Keane pounced, and Bardsley – eventually – ended up at the Stadium of Light.
A few days later, Bardsley made his debut in a game against Birmingham, better remembered for Rade Prica’s goalscoring debut, and he went on to make 200 appearances over the six and a half seasons that followed, scoring a pretty impressive 11 goals.
Wholehearted player, Bardsley was a player who, somewhat strangely, managers never seemed fully convinced by. A number of potential replacements were brought in, but Bardsley continually batted them off.
Indeed, six months after signing Bardsley, Keane splashed out on Pascal Chimbonda. Six months after that, Chimbonda was off and Bardsley back in the side. Alan Hutton, Marcos Angeleri, Craig Gardner, Ondrej Celustka and Santiago Vergini all had spells at right-back, and none of them – with the exception of Hutton, who was enormously impressive during his loan spell – looked capable of ousting Bardsley permanently.
His best spell in terms of starting games for Sunderland came under Steve Bruce in the 2010-11 season, when he played 32 of 38 league games after only starting 18 the season before, while the 2011-12 season under Bruce and O’Neill saw him play 29 games, while during 12-13 he made only 11 starts.
His ostracisation under Di Canio, and subsequently ill-judged casino pics and Instagram posts saw him lose some credibility with supporters, but under Poyet Bardsley enjoyed a resurgence – being brought back into the team for Gus’s first game in charge, and enjoying the pinnacle of his SAFC career, that goal at Old Trafford.
At the end of the season, Bardsley turned down a two-year deal to stay at the Stadium of Light in favour of a three-year contract at Stoke.
The fact he was replaced by Billy Jones and, seven years later, aged 35, he is still playing for a Premier League club while we are in League One, suggests that offering a three-year deal would have been a pretty sound call.
While not the flashiest player going, Bardsley was solid, consistent and wholehearted. He’s a player who ‘got’ the club, and when you have players like that, you shouldn’t let them go easily.