Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has told Stephen Ireland he is "an important player" for the club.
Ireland has found himself on the fringes under the Italian boss, making only 15 league starts this season, and is again likely to be on the bench tomorrow when City face Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Mancini has opted mainly for defensive midfielders, but Ireland's lack of action has perplexed some fans who believe he should be in the side given his ability to unlock defences and score goals.
Mancini said: "I have a lot of respect for Stephen Ireland because he is a good player. In the week of the Chelsea game he had an injury. But now he has recovered and is ready to play.
"I have a number of options in midfield and Stephen is an important player for us."