CRAIG Gardner says tales of his homesickness have been over-exaggerated.
And the good news for Sunderland fans is that the goal-threat midfielder is enjoying his stay on Wearside now his game has come together under new boss Martin O’Neill.
Rumours were rife in the lead-up to the January transfer window that the £5million summer signing was desperate to return home to the West Midlands after failing to settle at his new club.
But Gardner, pictured, told SportMail what fans want to hear this week when he insisted he now sees his future as being with the Black Cats.
“I’ve heard a lot about homesickness, but I don’t really think it’s right to describe it as that,” he said.
“I came to Sunderland under Steve Bruce and I wasn’t playing and it was tough for me, not playing.
“Me and Steve Bruce had a chat about it but I’ve never once come out and said in the media that I was homesick and wanted to leave.
“It’s just that I thought to myself: ‘Why did I come here? I’d come here to play and I wasn’t playing.
“I could have gone somewhere else and been playing. I could have stayed in Birmingham and kept on playing.’ That was where I was coming from.
“It’s all about playing, if you’re going to be happy.
“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind fighting for my place, but I felt as though I wasn’t getting a fair crack of the whip.
“I felt as though I wasn’t being played in my right position, as if I was being reined in.
“Those were the things that made me unhappy and think that if it wasn’t going to work out, then it might be better for me to go back to the West Midlands, where there were plenty of opportunities.”
Gardner is at pains to point out that fans should not think he has suddenly gone from being Mr Grumpy to Mr Happy overnight.
“It would be wrong to portray it like that and I wouldn’t want fans to get the impression that I’m as changeable as that.
“The truth was that I found it tough when I first got here, for a variety of reasons, but it has gradually improved to the point where I’m really enjoying it and looking forward to the games and I think everyone in the squad is.
“We’ve become a tight-knit unit and whether you’re playing or not, you’re feeling part of it.”
Gardner is now looking to continue with the upswing in form – with the team in general and himself in particular – that has been such a heartwarming feature of the Sunderland story over the last few months.
“I’ve been here now six months and I’ve got say that I’m loving it here, I genuinely am,” he said.
“I’m enjoying it. I’m settled down and I want the fans to know that.
“I want to keep my head down, keep going and keep helping the club progress.”