Sunderland's Craig Gardner insists manager Martin O'Neill did not want him to leave Aston Villa

The former Birmingham City man claims he was the instigator behind his move away from Villa Park and hails his current boss as 'a genius'

Sunderland’s Craig Gardner insists he doesn't hold a grudge against manager Martin O'Neill for selling him during the pair’s Aston Villa days.

After a summer switch to the Black Cats, rumours circulated that the midfielder was suffering from homesickness, but he has thrived since the arrival of O’Neill.

Gardner spent after three-and-a-half years at Villa under the Irishman’s guidance before a £3 million move to city rivals Birmingham City and the 25-year old has quelled any rumours of a grudge between the pair, insisting that it was him who engineered his move away from Villa Park in January 2010 and not the manager.

“To be honest, I’ve read a bit about the gaffer selling me previously but it doesn’t really paint the full picture". Gardner told Sunderland Echo.

“The truth is I wanted to leave, I was desperate to go because I wasn’t getting games and that’s why I was allowed to move – I was pestering him every day about going because I wanted to play football.

“The gaffer didn’t want me to leave but I needed to go because I knew that reserve team football was no longer any good for me if I was going to develop as I wanted to.”

The midfielder also hailed his side’s new lease of life under the guidance of O'Neill, describing him as a “genis”.

“Some people say he’s a genius, some people say he’s lucky; but he can’t be lucky because he does it every time.

“He’s just a top bloke and a top, top manager.”

"The way he turned Aston Villa around was unbelievable and the way he has turned Sunderland around is unbelievable.”