McLeish challenges Ireland to recapture form

Alex McLeish has challenged Aston Villa midfielder Stephen Ireland to recapture his “world-class form” of two years ago.

Alex McLeish has challenged Aston Villa midfielder Stephen Ireland to recapture his “world-class form” of two years ago.

Ireland’s days at Villa looked numbered when loaned out by the then manager Gerard Houllier to Newcastle for the second half of last season.

But the slate has been wiped clean for Ireland and another outcast in Stephen Warnock since McLeish replaced Houllier in mid June.

Warnock has regained his first-team spot and Ireland – an £8million signing from Manchester City a year ago – completed his first 90 minutes of the campaign against Hereford in the Carling Cup.

McLeish said: “Stephen has a lot to offer. A couple of years ago that guy was verging on world-class stuff (with Manchester City) It’s about him recapturing that kind of form.

“We will try our best. We will keep trying. We’re not about to give up on big investments on Stephen. He’s a very important member of the squad.”

Ireland is concentrating on building up his physical strength after little first-team football during the past two years.

McLeish said: “His conditioning has left him prone to little niggles, hamstrings etc. It’s another task for our sports science team to be working on that side of it in the gym.

“We have the facilities to help the players. They are not wanting for anything on that side of things.”

Meanwhile, McLeish has praised the versatility of veteran striker Emile Heskey and admits he would even play him at centre-half if required.

Heskey was employed effectively as the link man between the midfield and front players during last weekend’s 3-1 home triumph over Blackburn.

He said: “I see Emile as a very versatile player, playing in a lot of positions.

“Seriously, he might even one day have to fill in at centre-half and I’m sure he can do that as well.

“But he’s a great team player and he understands when some players get drawn out of position and we lose the ball. He’s a guy who will fill in their positions until the guy recovers his position.

“He’s had some career. When you look at it, it’s been terrific.

“When you hear people like Michael Owen saying he’s the best partner he’s ever played with and one or two others making similar comments, these are people who absolutely know the game inside out.”

Tottenham defender Alan Hutton is understood to be on McLeish’s radar as a replacement for Luke Young who is poised to move to QPR after the two clubs agreed a fee.

McLeish said: “We’ve had an offer that was acceptable to the club. I think he thought he had no future here last year and moved his family back to London.

“There was an agreement between Luke and I before the start of the season that, if it was right for both us and him, then we may agree to him going back to London.”

McLeish added: “We will try to fill that gap, we will try to bring someone else in.

“Am I interested in Alan Hutton? He is a Spurs player. It’s difficult for me to comment on other team’s players.

“But we are ready with a few names. We would try and add. We are thin on the ground in terms of experience in the squad.

“We have a lot of good young players but in terms of experienced ones we are a bit thin.”

More in this section

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox