GERARD HOULLIER is old fashioned when it comes to communication and prefers some straight talking, which is why he will be seeking to get inside the head of Stephen Ireland over the next few months.
The Frenchman has a vision of transforming the rebel child into a mature star who could still have an impact on the international scene as well as be the Premier League star his talent merits.
Houllier is still getting to know the vast majority of his squad since replacing Martin O’Neill at Villa Park and rather than swap texts and emails, he would prefer spend some quality time, on a one-to-one basis with Ireland and really discover what makes the flamboyant midfielder tick.
It is a task that has proved beyond several managers already – but that will only make Houllier more determined.
The 63-year-old invented a new position for the former Manchester City star – employing him in the hole behind main striker John Carew and there were immediate signs of promise.
When the rustiness holding Ireland back is finally all scraped away by a new fitness regime – Houllier expects results and may still be able to get the player to reconsider his international stance with the FAI.
“I will speak to him. I prefer to speak to all my players, not with email. I know that he is a very good player and I am not one of those coaches who don’t like my players to go and play for their national team. I like them to play, it means they are at the top of their form if they are playing for their country,” said Houllier.
“He is a very good player, but he has not been in the team enough because of injuries. I want to get him fit and on the field more often, because when he can play for us to his peak we will be a better team. He was suffering with some cramp towards the end of the game and that has to be removed. He has to get fitter.”
No such doubts exist over young defender Ciaran Clark, who was given the morale boost from Houllier as being the chosen defender, ahead of Carlos Cuellar, to replace Richard Dunne, after the central defender limped out of action after only 13 minutes for four stitches in an ankle wound.
Clark looked every inch Dunne’s long-term replacement for club and country with an assured display, dealing with the threat of Nicolas Anelka. If the Frenchman had scored, not hit the bar with a header in the final minute it would have been a miscarriage of justice for the youngster.
So too would have been defeat for Chelsea, who, despite being decimated by injuries of their own, displayed a resilience away from home that was not present last season.
They may have extended their miserable sequence at Villa Park to only one win in their last 12 visits, but on a weekend when points were frittered away at Old Trafford, this represents a point gained for Carlo Ancelotti ahead of a Champions League clash with Spartak Moscow.
Chelsea’s starting 11 could well be surrounded by youngsters in Moscow tomorrow night and knows Chelsea’s long term future is on more solid ground than the Luzhniki Stadium’s plastic pitch. Ancelotti is so confident in the youngsters he has at his disposal that he is ready to play a little Russian roulette in Group F and leave out experienced stars to give youth a chance.
The Italian has already decided that Michael Essien will be spared the jarring artificial surface and John Terry’s dodgy back may also see him rested for the game which could effectively seal Chelsea’s place in the knockout phase after only three games.
That means the likes of Gael Kakuta, Josh McEachran, Patrick Van Aanholt, Daniel Sturridge and Jeffrey Bruma could all be given a Champions League baptism against the joint group leaders.
And no matter how many kids Ancelotti has to call on in the Russian capital, the former England skipper who famously fell taking a penalty in the Champions League final on the same ground –– does not expect any slip ups this time around.
“They have had to get involved because of the injuries we have had and they have come in and done well. It is great to see so many young players rising to the challenge and showing that they can be part of things.
“They are learning fast and that can only be good for the club. The development is crucial and they are the long-term future. We have been without some big players because of injuries, but we are still in a great position in the league and the Champions League.”
Didier Drogba will be left at home as he recovers from a virus and Ghana international Essien will not be risked after his serious knee injury. Having the luxury of four games, including the Moscow trip, to get four points that will pretty much guarantee Chelsea’s progress means Ancelotti can take such calculated risks.
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