Milner deal confirmed, fresh start for Ireland

Confirmation this afternoon that sees James Milner arrive at the club in exchange for Stephen Ireland and a not insignificant sum of money heading south down the M6.

wrote plenty on the merits of signing Milner yesterday, but it is worth taking a look on the prospects for Stephen Ireland who - wrangling over a payoff aside - has largely been the forgotten man in the deal.

Debate will no doubt continue as to who got the better of the deal, and although you have to factor in the £16million that was paid in addition to Villa, the beauty of it is that both players are of a similar age so there should be a good parallel with their respective careers.

James Milner is a player whose star is very much on the rise. Coming off the back of a fantastic season in which he finally translated the promise he showed since arriving in the Premier League as a sixteen-year at Leeds. Involved at the heart of everything Villa did, both his goals and assists return were very good and he was involved in a high percentage of Villa total goals scored.

The challenge for Roberto Mancini now is to take him and develop him further. He has plenty of upside and can legitimately be one of the top players in the Premier League over the next decade. Far from being lost in a bloated squad, Mancini appears to be very high on him the expectation for me is that the drive and dynamism he possesses makes him an important part of the side.

But what of Stephen Ireland?

There is no doubt Villa are getting player of immense talent, arguably the best talent to come through the Academy in its current guise. 2008/09 (and to a lesser degree 2007/08) was a hugely successful season for Ireland when he became the heartbeat of the side.

At that point, it looked as though the previous seasons of inconsistency and unfulfilled promise were at an end and he would become a player the side could be shaped around. However, the ADUG money had begun to be splashed and it was the arrival of Carlos Tevez - who in turn became such an important player in 2009/10 - that pushed Ireland to the periphery. The very spaces Ireland had wandered to such great success were suddenly taken by the Argentinian, all hustle and energy in dropping deep for the ball. Ireland was forced deeper, at times moved into a central pairing - a role he clearly isn't cut out for. As he points out in this interview on arriving at Villa Park, he rarely played a full ninety minutes last season.

But, as well as Ireland being 'forced' from the side, it did highlight a lack of versatility on his part and his success at Villa is contingent on how he is deployed. Looking at the Villa side, a lack of creativity was apparent last season. At times they could be one dimensional, particularly when deploying John Carew and Emile Heskey as outlets. This isn't to say Villa don't possess talent and if Ireland has the midfield built around him to a degree, you can see him forging alliances with both Ashley Young and Gabriel Aghbonlahor. If, however, he is constrained within a rigid 4-4-2 formation he could well struggle as much as he did at times last season.

With all players who move on, a close is kept on them to see how they fare away from the club, but with Stephen Ireland, I suspect this will be even moreso - particularly as the comparisons with his performances to those of James Milner can so easily be made in deciding who 'won' the deal.

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