Villa’s Ireland running out of last chances

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Updated: July 10, 2011

Wayward Aston Villa midfielder Stephen Ireland has spoken about his desire for a fresh start under new Villa boss Alex McLeish. It a statement that has become all too familiar from a player who not so long ago was a star performer at Manchester City, scooping the Player of the year award for the 2008-09 season on the back of a campaign of great performances and some crucial goals.

Despite the influx of big names into Eastlands at the time, Ireland’s future in the City team looked secure, along with that of his compatriot and then City captain Richard Dunne, the man who had claimed the previous four Player of the year awards.

Ireland signed a new long-term contract for City in May 2009, but his future at the club soon became uncertain. Pushed aside, perhaps unfairly, by the arrival of another batch of marquee names at the City of Manchester Stadium, I felt at the time that Ireland should have been given more of an opportunity to show that he was worthy of a place in the starting 11. Of course, I’m not privy to what goes on behind the scenes, and new boss Roberto Mancini questioned his mental attitude, which, in light of much publicized events, is a reasonable thing to do.

At the start of last season, Ireland moved to Villa and immediately questioned the motivation of the younger players at his former club, warning James Milner, who went in the other direction, that the grass was not greener on the other side.

With all players who move to City, there is the risk that you might end up as nothing more than a bench warmer, or worse still, left out of match day squads completely, and Eastlands has no shortage of such players at the minute. Bayern Munich’s chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge recently blasted City’s tactics, claiming they had 48 senior players under contract. It’s 39 according to the club’s official site, in case you’re wondering.

So, at Villa Park, with relatively less competition for places, you would have expected Ireland to command a regular berth. Not so, Ireland failed to make the grade at Villa and was publicly criticised by the then manager, Gerard Houllier, who insisted the Cobh native needed to work harder at his game.

With expulsion to the football wilderness that is Scotland looming, Newcastle United stepped in and Ireland moved on loan until the end of the season. Another fresh start beckoned, but unfortunately injuries hampered his chances and he now finds himself back at Aston Villa, having only managed a few minutes of football during his spell in the North East.

Gerard Houllier’s saddening health problems have thrown him a lifeline however in the shape of a new manager who has yet to examine his mental state. That opportunity may come shortly for Alex McLeish though, and surely even Ireland knows, that his chances, in a world where almost anything goes, are running out fast.

He should grab this one with both hands

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