Saturday 17 February 2018

Stephen Ireland ready to resurrect career at Stoke

Stephen Ireland in the Stoke City kit
Stephen Ireland in the Stoke City kit

By John Percy

Stephen Ireland is ready to revive his career under former manager Mark Hughes after completing a surprise loan move to Stoke City.

Ireland became the latest member of Aston Villa’s Bomb Squad – so called because they were sidelined by manager Paul Lambert – to be jettisoned, signing a loan deal for the season that effectively ends his career in the West Midlands.

The Republic of Ireland international emerged as one of the most highly rated young talents in the Premier League under Hughes at Manchester City, earning the club’s player of the year award in the 2008-09 season.

However, after moving to Villa as part of the deal that took James Milner to the Etihad Stadium in 2010, he has endured a difficult time under managers Gérard Houllier, Alex McLeish and Lambert.

He returned for pre-season training to be told he would never play for Aston Villa again by Lambert and was made to train with an exclusive group of highly-paid outcasts.

Ireland had just a year left on his contract but Stoke City have agreed a deal that will see them pay only a chunk of his £65,000-a-week wages.

He said: "It’s been really frustrating as I take my job seriously and it’s been difficult for me not being on the team bus playing games.

"This is a big year for me and I never got a run of games at Villa. It’s been very up and down and is hard to take because I’ve always trained properly and been professional.

"I’m just so grateful to the manager here at Stoke for giving me the opportunity to build up my career again. I’ve absolutely got a point to prove and I’m dying to get back into the swing of things.

"This is a massive opportunity and I’m still only 27. Its a vital year for me to be playing week in, week out."

Lambert also trimmed his squad by sending Barry Bannan to Crystal Palace in a £1 million deal, while signing Czech Republic international Libor Kozak from Lazio for £6.5 million.

Palace were one of the busiest clubs on the last day of the window, bringing in Reading defender Adrian Mariappa and Huddersfield right-back Jack Hunt.

Ian Holloway, the Palace manager, also made efforts to persuade Arsenal forward Nicklas Bendtner to complete a move to Selhurst Park.

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