PHIL BARDSLEY has turned his back on Sunderland to sign a long-term deal with Stoke City.
The 28-year-old informed Sunderland officials of his decision yesterday afternoon, and having completed a medical with his new employers, was confirmed as a Stoke player last night.
His refusal to sign a new contract on Wearside ends a five-and-a-half-year stay that contained more than its fair share of ups and downs.
Bardsley joined Sunderland in a £2m deal from Manchester United in January 2008, but dropped out of the first team a couple of years later with Steve Bruce preferring the on-loan Alan Hutton.
His most successful season was the 2010-11 campaign, with long-range strikes against Aston Villa, Chelsea and West Brom helping to earn him the Supporters’ Player of the Year award.
However, his standing plummeted under Paolo Di Canio, and he was forced to train with the reserves towards the end of the 2012-13 season as a late-night trip to a Newcastle casino resulted in him being publicly criticised by Sunderland’s controversial Italian boss.
Last season began equally badly, with Bardsley taking to social media to mock Sunderland’s opening-day defeat to Fulham as his ostracism from the first-team picture continued, but one of Gustavo Poyet’s first acts as manager was to restore the defender to the first-team fold.
After scoring an own goal on his return to the starting line-up at Swansea, Bardsley went on to make 26 Premier League starts last season, but winter talks over a potential new deal failed to produce a resolution.
Poyet spoke to Bardsley and his representatives again at the end of the season, but the Scotland international is understood to have been seeking a longer deal than Sunderland officials were willing to offer.
Stoke and West Ham also displayed an interest in acquiring his services, and he has opted to join the former, where he will battle with Geoff Cameron and Andy Wilkinson for the right to start the season as Hughes’ first-choice right-back.
His decision to leave Wearside represents a blow to Poyet, who will now have to look elsewhere for a first-choice full-back.
Santiago Vergini and Ondrej Celustka spent part of last season playing at right-back, but neither remains on Sunderland’s books as they were only on loan from Estudiantes and Trabzonspor respectively.
Poyet could yet sign Vergini on a permanent deal, and remains hopeful of persuading both Jack Colback and Seb Larsson to rebuff interest from elsewhere to sign new deals with the Black Cats. However, he is unlikely to be able to re-sign Fabio Borini following the Italian’s successful loan spell.
Having returned to Liverpool and played in a post-season friendly against Shamrock Rovers, Borini would like to prove himself at Anfield next season, and his agent, Marco de Marchi, claims the striker has received assurances from Brendan Rodgers that he will be part of his plans.
“I’ve read about an offer from Sunderland, but I don’t think they have made one to Liverpool,” said de Marchi. “There is interest, but it’s not limited to them.
“There have been inquiries from clubs in several countries. I haven’t spoken to Brendan Rodgers, but he has said Fabio will be one of his attackers. He is tied to Liverpool for another two years.”