O’Neill keen to keep Gardner

O’Neill has had to dismiss reports this week suggesting Gardner is

unsettled and wants to move back to the Midlands after just six

months at Sunderland. The Black Cats manager accepts that rival

clubs may try to prise him away in January, but says there have

been no bids yet and is determined to keep hold of the 25-year-old.

Having worked with Gardner at Aston Villa, O’Neill is convinced

that he has what it takes to thrive at the Stadium of Light and

establish himself in the side. “Craig Gardner is capable of getting

10 goals a season from midfield for any Premier League side,”

O’Neill said in the Sunderland Echo. “I had him at Aston Villa and

I know him well and I want him to stay here. “I haven’t had any

enquiries yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I got them because

I’m very much aware of his quality. “But I want him to stay here

and hopefully, that’s what will happen. “I know footballers are

meant to be rough and tough, but homesickness can be a problem for

players and it’s a case of helping them through it sometimes. “Once

you are through it, though, you’re invariably glad you stayed and I

think Craig can do very well for us here.” Explaining why he

decided to let Gardner leave when he was in charge at Villa,

O’Neill insisted he was still an admirer of the midfielder. “At the

time he was being kept out of the side by England internationals –

we had Stewart Downing, Gabby Agbonlahor and Ashley Young playing

in midfield and Craig’s best position has never been that of a

holding midfielder,” said O’Neill. “But I’ve always been aware of

what a good attacking midfielder he is. “We saw that against QPR,

when he came on and produced a great cameo display. “The shot he

had on goal was of the highest quality – it wasn’t just a

straight-forward shot, it was a cleverly curled ball – and

technically he’s capable of those shots. “He’s a good player and I

want to keep him at this club if at all possible.”