Craig Gardner joins Sunderland but still harbours European dreams

CRAIG Gardner turned his back on European football to join Sunderland last night, but believes he has only put it off for a year.

Craig Gardner

CRAIG Gardner turned his back on European football to join Sunderland last night, but believes he has only put it off for a year.

The 24-year-old midfielder was the second of two Black Cats signings yesterday – with two more joining today.

Hours earlier Ji Dong-Won completed his £2m move from Chunnam Dragons, while Keiren Westwood and Sebastian Larsson will today officially become Sunderland players after their contracts with Coventry City and Birmingham City expired at midnight. Like Ji, Gardner – understood to have cost £4.5m, rising to £6m – has signed a three-year contract.

He says joining from Birmingham, who will play in next season’s Europa League, was a “no-brainer” – and is confident Sunder-land can qualify for the 2012-13 competition.

“It’s unbelievable, to be honest,” Gardner told his new club’s official website.

“As soon as I found out that Sunderland were interested, it was a no-brainer.

“I have heard so much about Steve Bruce and his backroom staff and how good a chairman Niall Quinn is.

“It’s such a massive club and their ambitions for this season meet my ambitions, and it was too good to turn down.

“We want to be in Europe next year and it’s a great task to go and chase. It’s a good goal for us and we can go and do it, and I am sure we will.”

Gardner has been signed to address one of the Black Cats’ major failings last term, when he scored ten times for relegated Birmingham.

Of the 13 goals which Sunderland’s midfielders scored in the league last term, five came from Jordan Henderson and Boudewijn Zenden, who have since left, and another from Cristian Riveros, who is expected to depart soon.

Manager Bruce now has two of the three strikers he targeted in the transfer window, and is still hoping he might lure Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck back as the fourth on another season-long loan.

South Korean Ji has promised to belie national stereotypes and become a physical foil for Asamoah Gyan and Connor England Under-21 striker Wickham.

At 6ft 2in tall, he is just an inch shorter than Wickham, signed from Ipswich Town the previous day.

Although Ji admitted this week that he has seen little of the Premier League, he seems to have grasped its physicality.

“As a striker, I like to overwhelm defenders,” he said in his first interview as a Sunderland player.

“My aim is to help the team get as many points as possible. That is what will give me satisfaction.

“I am so satisfied to be able to come to a good club, a nice club in the world’s number one league.”

Ji has an impressive international strike-rate of six goals in 11 games. Four came at this year’s Asia Cup, where he caught Bruce’s eye.

“The boy has been in fantastic form for both club and country and he was one of South Korea’s stand-out performers at the Asian Cup, so we are delighted to bring him to Sunderland,” revealed the Black Cats boss.

“The Premier League is very different to the K-League, so there is hard work ahead, but you just have to look at players like Park Ji-Sung (of Manchester United) and (Bolton Wanderers’) Lee Chung-Yong to see how well Korean players are adapting to its pace and physicality.”

The 20-year-old, who had an unsuccessful trial with Reading in 2007-08, speaks little English, but is eager to learn, adding: “I hope I could be a member of this team within six months.”

Meanwhile, centre-back Jean-Yves Mvoto has become the third player in two days to move to League One after being released by the Black Cats.

The 22-year-old joined Oldham Athletic, where he was on loan last season.

The Frenchman’s arrival from Paris-Saint Germain was much heralded in January 2008, but he failed to make a first-team appearance.

Next season he will play against Tranmere Rovers new boys Michael Kay and Robbie Weir.

Meanwhile, Riveros and former Black Cats team-mate Paulo Da Silva are in Paraguay’s 23-man squad for the Copa America, which begins in Argentina in the early hours of Saturday UK time.

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