As Stephen Ireland left Eastlands for Villa Park, his bitter attack upon his own treatment and the club’s “money obsessed” youngsters will not have surprised many people. Left out in the cold since his Player of the Year award in 2009, the Stephen Ireland who was beginning to fulfil his early promise cut a peripheral figure towards the end of his time at Manchester City – he was now just another victim of Mancini’s spending spree.
And yet, after a frustrating time, Ireland’s move to Aston Villa could prove the making of a player who has in the past raised doubts about whether he possessed the mental fortitude to accord with his footballing ability.
His own lavish spending contradicts his criticism of City’s youngsters and he just needs to focus on making his mark upon the Premier League now he has been gifted the chance of first team football.
In the 2008/2009 season, 22 year-old Ireland notched nine league goals and his ability to pop up in the box at just the right time had many likening him to Paul Scholes. If he can imitate this at Villa Park, it may go some way in easing the heartbreak endured when he left City.
Ireland said: “Some people have used the phrase that I’ve been forced out. I couldn’t be happier to be forced to come here, to a club like Aston Villa.”
A club like Aston Villa possess the sort of players that could be key if Ireland is to prove a success. John Carew and Gabriel Agbonlahor offer the pace and power which often occupies defenders and a free role in a 4-4-2 could again be the catalyst for some scintillating midfield performances.
What is certain is that played in right position, he could flourish particularly under the guidance of a manager who trusts him. At City he claimed that Roberto Mancini “doesn’t really build relationships with players” and a strong bond between player and manager can often be pivotal. It may also help Ireland, who has more grandmothers than City appearances for the 09-10 season, stay grounded after numerous off the field problems.
Whether the attitude of the player or the club itself dictated his poor treatment we’ll never know but once he settles in at Aston Villa we may see the talents that emerged in 2009 come to fruition after he was cast aside for the big names at Eastlands.