Updated Tuesday, 8th February 2011
Phil Bardsley went the extra training mile to make sure he could fight for his place.
Phil Bardsley feels as fit as he could be and in the form of his life after getting his Sunderland career off the ropes at a summer training camp with European super-featherweight champion Steve Foster Jr. He turned to the hard game to get back to tip-top condition as he felt his time at Sunderland was at risk. He lost his right-back position to Alan Hutton last season when the Tottenham defender was on loan at the Stadium of Light. He could be lining up alongside Hutton for Scotland in tomorrow's Carling Nations Cup game for Scotland against Northern Ireland in Dublin after becoming one of Sunderland's top performers this season. Bardsley points to his time training under Foster Jr and former British super-middleweight champion Ensley Bingham as the key to his success.
Bardsley said: "I am maturing and I gave myself the best opportunity I could in the summer. There were rumours of me leaving Sunderland and I felt I had to do something about it. I did a little bit over the summer in terms of getting fit before I went back to training and I'm reaping the rewards now. I went away and got my feet up for a couple of weeks and before I went back I went to a boxing training camp, which stood me in good stead for the season. It was something I felt I needed to do, to give myself the best possible start I could. I was down at Champ's Camp at Moss Side in Manchester with Ensley Bingham and my friend, Steve Foster Jr. I got myself in tip-top condition. I owe a lot of credit to the lads who helped me out. When they asked me to spar, I ran off. I didn't fancy sparring."
Things are all looking good for the defender who is enjoying his football with Sunderland firmly placed in the top half of the Barclays Premier League. He said: "I've just been trying to enjoy it as much as I can. If people have watched me, the smile on my face is always there. I am enjoying myself more than ever. I would say I'm playing the best football I've played for a long time. I'm playing consistently every week and enjoying it. If you enjoy your football, I think everything else off the field falls into place. You are happy in your life and then that shows on the pitch. Hopefully that can continue because I love playing football."
There is still some friendly competition with Hutton for the right-back slot in the national side but Bardsley has recently played on the left side of defence, often a problem position for Scotland in the past few years. Bardsley said: "Tottenham are doing well, Alan has been doing well. I've been playing pretty well at Sunderland as well. I have been playing left-back as well. It's up to the manager whichever team he selects. I'll just focus on doing well in training and hopefully get a start. I don't focus too much on that. I've played right-back and left-back for Sunderland this season. If called upon I've done the best job I can. If that's to be for Scotland, there are some good right-backs but the way I've been playing lately I'm as confident as anybody. As long as I'm in the team, I'm happy. Wherever that may be, I'll try to do the best I can for the country."
Bardsley has no regrets about pledging his allegiance to Scotland last year, a decision which delighted his Glasgow-born father, who Scotland manager Craig Levein last week revealed was in tears watching his son face Spain. Bardsley said: "He's an emotional guy anyway. He's tough but he's emotional. It was a great moment for him and for my family to be playing for Scotland. He loved every minute and he's just proud that his son is playing for his country. We had talked about it a couple of times. When Walter Smith asked me a few years ago I was still a young lad learning my trade. I felt the time was right now to commit myself and I'm delighted to have done it."
Ger Harley (ger@scottishfitba net)
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