In the wake of a manic transfer deadline day that saw Andy Carroll join Liverpool for ?35 million and Fernando Torres join Chelsea for ?50 million, Stephen Ireland’s loan move to Newcastle from Aston Villa slipped under the radar.
It was the Irishman’s second move of the season having only joined Villa in the summer from Manchester City in a deal that took James Milner to Eastlands for ?24 million. The fact it was Ireland who was the makeweight showed just how times had changed.
In 2007 Ireland became the centre of controversy after leaving a Republic of Ireland training camp early. He cited the death of his grandmother as the reason for his departure, only for it to come out she was in fact alive and well. Claims it was a different grandparent were also found to be untrue.
He went on to have an average season netting four league goals in 33 games from midfield. Come 2008-09 season under Mark Hughes and playing along side Brazilian Robinho it all began to click for Ireland and he looked brilliant.
His passing was intelligent and defence splitting. He contributed 9 league goals, the best of which was a beautifully curled shot away to Hull City. His manager considered him vital to the team and he had cemented himself in the first eleven. The promising talent was beginning to come to fruition.
His problem however was the owners at Manchester City wanted instant gratification. As good as his performances were, the club still attempted to purchase AC Milan’s Kaka; a bid they intend to renew in the summer.
As the 2009-10 season began his chances became limited. With the sacking of Mark Hughes he faded back and found himself moving from the unlikely star man to bench warmer. When the chance of a move to Aston Villa came there was suggestions the player himself was not overly willing to move. His wage demands also made the deal difficult but with the 08-09 season still fresh in the mind, it made him seem like a snip at ?8 million.
In his early interviews for Aston Villa he spoke openly of the changes at Manchester City. References to ‘fancy watches’ and ostentatious accessories all seemed slightly hypocritical from the owner of a red and white Bentley Coupe. As the season began many waited with bated breath. Here was the playmaker Villa needed; they had a quality midfielder that could also chip in with goals.
In short his debut was a nightmare. Celebrating his 24th birthday he was deployed in central midfield as Villa were demolished 6-0 by Newcastle with his impact being minimal at best. It didn’t get much better after that and come December reports surfaced he had fallen out with manager Gérard Houllier. The former Lyon and Liverpool head coach confirmed on December 19 that Ireland was free to leave after a meeting with the player’s representatives.
A move further north to Celtic seemed most likely, with Neil Lennon’s side picking up the majority of his reported ?70 grand a week wages. That deal quickly fell flat and towards the end of the window rumors began circulating that a move north was back on this time with Newcastle United.
In a rather drawn out set of negotiations that finally concluded itself on deadline day, Ireland eventually moved to the Magpies. The supposed hold up was because Newcastle was unwilling to take over his wages until he was match fit.
Claims he is mentally fragile and requires a figurative arm around him means he can sometimes be a difficult player to man manage. His talent is unquestionable though and the early signs are positive.
A month into his stay on Tyneside he has yet to make an appearance but looks likely to play some part in the weekend’s game at home to Everton. He has already expressed his fondness of the region and in particular the Geordie people.
‘I’ve had a walk around the city, and the people here are so nice and polite.
They come up and shake your hand, and say “all the best here”.’
The move would seem a good one for the player. Newcastle’s success is built on a tight dressing room and good team spirit. If embraced by the squad’s big characters like Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan the sense of belonging he is seeking for may be found.
Of course with every element of optimism, a degree of pessimism counter balances it. A disgruntled character shoved from club to club may be inverted and stand offish. In a hard working side like Newcastle’s, can they accommodate the luxury player that is Stephen Ireland?
In truth Alan Pardew’s is likely to get his best results using Ireland in a more advanced position than the one he found himself in at Villa. In a 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1 operating in the same way Mezut Ozil did for Germany in the World Cup. A roaming role should allow Ireland that freedom of expression that saw him flourish at Man City.
With a purchase option of around ?5 million at the end of his loan, a good few months with Newcastle could see the rejuvenation of Ireland’s career as Newcastle look to re-establish themselves in the Premier League.