STEPHEN Ireland is desperate to pull on a Newcastle United shirt – so he can consign the most difficult period of his career to history.
In the summer of 2009, Ireland was on top of his game. Named Manchester City’s player of the season, he had risen to the challenge provided by a welter of big-money imports and looked set to play a key part in his club’s anticipated rise.
But two managerial departures, two changes of club and a knee injury stalled his progress, and frustrated the 24-year-old.
Ireland is hoping to make his Newcastle debut at home to Everton on Saturday, more than a month after joining the club on loan.
If he does, it will be his first appearance since December 6. The midfielder is also hoping it draws a line under a disastrous spell which saw him make just ten Premier League starts in 2010.
“It feels like a new lease of life,” he said of his Newcastle move. “All the lads and staff have been brilliant, so it’s really good. I’m delighted I made the decision to come here – definitely the right one.
“I’m grateful to be given the opportunity, but I just need to get back on the pitch now.
“I’m frustrated with the injury I’ve got at the moment. It’s not good to come here and just get treatment. I came here to play.”
Ireland arrived as negotiations over Andy Carroll’s £35m move to Liverpool were at an advanced stage – and his inability to play since has only pushed him further from the mind of his new supporters.
It is typical of the way a bright career has nosedived since Roberto Mancini replaced Mark Hughes as City manager.
“I played for about four or five years at Man City and two years ago had a very good season, winning the player of the year award,” Ireland recalled.
“I wanted to come back into pre-season and kick on straight away, which is what happened initially as I was played the first game against Blackburn and scored, and played well for five or six games under Mark Hughes.
“But then he left and things went in the opposite direction. I went to Aston Villa and for whatever reason it hasn’t worked.
“But now I’m here and the impression I’ve got from the manager is really good. I’m really impressed by him as a manager and a person and the way the team is doing as well is brilliant.”
Martin O’Neill set up a £6m move in the summer, but by the time Ireland made his debut – in a 6-0 defeat at St James’ Park – the manager had walked out on Villa. And his replacement, Gérard Houllier, did not seem to share his predecessor’s enthusiasm for the player.
It was clear Ireland needed to move, but a knee complaint complicated matters.
“It’s been really frustrating, especially when it’s not your fault and when it’s out of your hands,” said Ireland.
“It would be different if I had played 40 games in a row or something like that and didn’t perform, then I would hold my hands up. But when I haven’t been given chances, opportunities and game-time I’m sat around basically doing nothing.
“It’s difficult because you have to keep your confidence high and know what you’re good at. Then when your chance comes you have to try and perform.
“But after the last year-and-a-half you feel like a fish out of water. I’m just training hard and am still young, so I’m hoping it will eventually change and I will be back playing, hopefully with Newcastle. All that time will then just be history.
“Your confidence really goes up and down. I feel like I’ve been a victim of bad circumstances, but I will get through it.”