Stephen Ireland can hardly be described as a simple man and given his often lavish lifestyle he is hardly one for the smaller things in life however when Stoke manager Mark Hughes put a call into his Aston Villa counterpart Paul Lambert asking over the availability of the Cork man, a warm fuzzy feeling must gone through him.
Football salvation was on its way. The love was back. Hughes after all was the man who got the best out of him, the man who backed him and made him one of the best young midfielders in England.
A lot has happened since they last set eyes on each other in the same training kits.
Ireland, like Hughes, became a victim of the new found wealth at City and moved on. To say his career has stagnated at Aston Villa is an understatement. During his five years at Manchester City to 2010 Ireland made 140 appearances, since then he has played 47 competitive games, an average of just over 15 a season.
Signed by Martin O’Neill, like Hughes a good motivator, the move to Aston Villa appeared, on paper anyway to be a good move. However before he had the chance to even pull on a shirt, O’Neill was gone and Gerard Houllier was in. The former Liverpool man not indulging the lack of effort that comes with the creativity that Ireland has.
Houllier made it clear he didn’t want Ireland at Villa and he was soon on his way, san injury, to Newcastle. The move was meant to be a loan deal with a view to a permanent transfer, needless to say it didn’t happen, an infamous controversial nightclub picture and an ankle injury failing to endear him to the Toon faithful.
Back at Villa it appeared that Ireland had turned a corner. New Villa manager Alex McLeish, in for Houllier, appeared to be getting the most out of Ireland with the player showing glimpses of his potential.
His best performance in a Villain’s shirt came in December 2011 when he scored and created another in a 3-1 win over Chelsea. His form that season saw him named the Supporters player of the year, Ireland was back…and then McLeish was gone.
Another manager who believed in Ireland had been cast aside.
Last season under the guidance of Lambert, Ireland had a real chance to build on the 2011/2012 season. While McLeish had given Ireland a chance, Lambert was a footballing man, a man who would understand him and give him the space he needed.
He started well but that just as the momentum was building, injury struck again, a broken wrist him ruling out for a period when he was really needed. When he came back he was inconsistent. Lambert doesn’t have the time at the moment for inconsistency especially from an established player who at 27 is an elder statesman in a young team.
Hughes meanwhile is rebuilding his managerial career. While he may have temporarily enhanced his reputation at Fulham following his City departure. His decision to cut short his stint due to personal ambitions in hindsight may not have been the best one with a subsequent disastrous spell at QPR proving that while he had ambitions, he perhaps lacked the belief or managerial skills to fulfil his personal ambitions.
The reward for his downfall – another chance. The Premier League is a forgiving arena and in the comfortable surroundings of Stoke, Hughes will have the chance to rebuild the reputation forged firstly with Wales and then with Blackburn.
Blackburn, under Hughes, were a big physical side that could football. Stoke currently have the physicality, Hughes needs to bring in the football.
The signs are there already that the change is coming and with the introduction of Ireland, another step in the plan will come together. They need each to succeed.