Gardner fights for his second chance playing for O'Neill

Sunderland midfielder is blossoming under the manager who allowed him to leave Villa Park

There is a theme to Craig Gardner, albeit one delivered with a smile and a quick anecdote. It is about fighting for a career, for a new club, to win over a manager at the second attempt and to emerge from a raucous family where he grew up with five brothers.

It is why Gardner, the 25-year-old Sunderland midfielder, helps fund a boxing club back in the Midlands. He likes fighting; watching it in the ring, embracing it when six Gardners go mad in his parents' garden and finding the courage to turn around a difficult start as a big-money signing at the Stadium of Light, when much was made of missing his family.

"I went to see Steve Bruce and we had a chat but I never came out and said I was homesick,"said Gardner. "Did he [Bruce] say it? I dunno. It wasn't homesickness, it was more a case of me finding it hard to settle. Yeah, I did miss home but I was not moaning about it. I was moaning about needing to play football here to settle me. What was the point in coming up here, training five days a week and then sitting on the bench? I came up here to play games. Yes, I did have a price tag on my head but I wanted to play games.

"I played for Birmingham last year and scored 10 goals. I am an attacking midfielder and I have come here because I want to do the same thing and it was hard. "

The fact that Martin O'Neill has now replaced Bruce as manager at Sunderland has been a key factor in Gardner's emergence as a midfielder who justifies his £5m price-tag.

Gardner started his career at Aston Villa but O'Neill allowed him to leave in 2010 to find first-team football. However, Gardner is not holding that against him. He is a better player having gained that experience, at Birmingham, and O'Neill is back in the type of job he does well – getting the best out of underdogs. "If you ever need any support, all you have to do is look to the touchline and he's there jumping up and down, kicking every ball, fighting your corner and that's exactly what you want," Gardner adds.

"You need a manager like that if you are finding it tough on the pitch. On Sunday [against Newcastle] we got Stéphane Sessègnon sent off with more than half an hour to go. You look at the touchline and you see the gaffer jumping up and down, buzzing about and that is what spurs you on. I'm a winner and I'm not a quitter. Newcastle fans are booing you and chucking stuff at you in the derby and all you need to do is look on the gaffer.

"He sold me because I needed first-team football. I was in a position where I thought to myself I was good enough to play regularly in the Premier League. Not being big-headed, I was too good to play in the reserves and I did not want to be stuck there because what happens after that?

"I wanted to be a Premier League footballer and I got that opportunity with Birmingham which was a great move for me. I did well there and then the opportunity to move to Sunderland came up and I could not turn that down. Look at the players who were in front of me [at Villa]: Downing, Milner, Ashley Young, Barry, all England internationals."

Then there is the fighting. First, in the shape of Eastside Boxing club in Birmingham. "I help fund them. There are some quality lads there and a staff that have built the gym up. It's unbelievable what they've done.

"I'd go to Eastside and speak to them. It's nice to know that sort of people, nice to see young kids who want to get off the street and not get into trouble, drugs or drink: kids that want to do something with their lives."

Then with his brothers, among them another emerging midfielder at Aston Villa, brother Gary.

"I'm one of six brothers. While two were playing football, two were probably fighting in the kitchen. It used to be a madhouse. It still is, actually, because they come from everywhere now, the kids, the grandkids. We still play a bit in the garden, but it's too competitive: they try to kill us!"

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas