HARRISON NJ - JULY 23: Stephen Ireland #7 of Manchester City plays the ball against Sporting Lisbon in the Barclays New York Challenge July 23 2010 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison New Jersey. Sporting Lisbon won 2-0. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls)
Gerard Houllier sent Aston Villa out in a 4-5-1 formation against Birmingham City, much to the dismay of many Villa supporters who are tired of watching overly defensive football. While looking at the starting lineups, many understandably wondered why Stephen Ireland wasn't playing. This situation would have been a perfect fit for the former Manchester City man, allowing him to link up play between the defensive midfielders and Emile Heskey. Instead, Ireland was on the bench, with Steve Sidwell getting the start, and Ciaran Clark moving from center back to defensive midfield. But why?
A look at the tweets of English journalists reveals why Ireland wasn't given the start.
Houllier said: "I don’t want to have players who say ‘he’s a good player but'...He needs to get rid of these ‘buts’ & be a good player."
Sandy Macaskill doesn't mince words (neither does Houllier):
gerard houllier on stephen ireland: "He doesn’t defend, he doesn’t run back, he loses too many balls in crucial areas."
Well. I guess we know what the gaffer's stance is on Ireland, then. I know he's failed to show much of a spark thus far in the season, but it seems like this would have been his chance to show what he could actually do. Houllier isn't willing to risk it, though. I wonder what's going on behind the scenes? Is Ireland failing to work hard to improve? Does he have a disgruntled attitude? Or is it all down to his unimpressive performances on the pitch?
A couple things to take away from this: First, it's clear that there's no issue between the manager and Carlos Cuellar, or Houllier would have made his feelings apparent. It seems that Houllier simply favors the experience of Richard Dunne, who to be fair didn't have the worst game of his career, even if he did get beaten by Cameron Jerome.
Second, it's also clear that, if Houllier feels a player is not performing, he's not going to put him on simply for safety's sake. The manager took a risk by putting Barry Bannan on the pitch today when he could've put aside his thoughts on Ireland and used him late in the game, as almost everyone expected. Bannan put in a spectacular performance and certainly has many thinking that the team should once again put Steve Sidwell on the bench.
Is the message clear, Ireland? You're being replaced by a second-string player and a child. Your past doesn't matter to Houllier. Perhaps it's time to start selling off your expensive cars and indoor aquariums, because it looks like you're not long for this team.