MART IS A REAL SMART DEALER Gardner backs Sunderland boss to land top targets
CRAIG GARDNER has total faith in Martin O’Neill as the Sunderland boss tries to land his big targets in a tense conclusion to the summer transfer window.
The Black Cats have so far added only free agent Carlos Cuellar and 34-year-old striker Louis Saha to their squad since the end of last season.
But amid a whirlwind of speculation over who might end up at the Stadium of Light, and with O’Neill insisting he is ready to launch a late flurry of activity, Gardner is confident his former Aston Villa manager will get the men he wants.
“I’ve worked with the gaffer before and he’s not a genius for no reason.
“He’s not forced to buy players. He hasn’t won medals and been as successful as he is by rushing in and people telling him what to do.
“He decides what needs to be done – and that’s what makes him so good.”
O’Neill, with the backing of Sunderland owner and chairman Ellis Short, has made a number of approaches for big-name players.
But while some progress has been made, the Ulsterman is still awaiting decisive breakthroughs on several fronts.
His pursuit of Wolves striker Steven Fletcher has been well documented, with the Black Country club holding out for the best price possible.
Sunderland are understood to have offered a deal amounting to £13million, which is yet to be accepted.
But there is a growing feeling on Wearside that a deal could be done before the end of the month.
O’Neill’s interest in Manchester City winger Adam Johnson is genuine and ongoing but, while the England international has north-east roots, Sunderland face competition from clubs with higher profiles.
O’Neill has back-up plans as well as additional targets in other areas of the field and has been linked with a growing number of players.
Some reports have the Black Cats boss chasing a long list of names – some more realistic than others – which extends into double figures.
But there is little doubt that his main focus, as it has been all summer, remains on attacking recruits following the loss of Asamoah Gyan and Nicklas Bendtner from an already depleted armoury.
Fletcher and Johnson would certainly fit the bill – and while the dream scenario would see both arrive, there is ground still to be covered and a succession of obstacles in O’Neill’s path.
Gardner is convinced that O’Neill has already succeeded in strengthening his hand in the striking department with the capture of Saha, who made his Premier League debut for Sunderland as a substitute in Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Arsenal, on a one-year deal.
“When Louis came on, I thought he was unbelievable,” said Gardner.
“He held the ball up, he was strong and that’s what we needed.
“Even in the changing room, it helps when you see someone who has been at Manchester United.
“He’s player person.
“He talks to you, tells you and encourages you, and that’s what you need.
“If we can get a few more players in to go with his experience, that would be great.”
a and top-class top-class
SUN LOVER: Gardner
has faith in O’Neill
TARGET MAN: O’Neill won’t back off until he’s signed Fletcher IN THE BAG: Cuellar has been snapped
up by O’Neill