Ireland: Hughes rescued me
Stephen Ireland says he was 'treated like a toy' at Aston Villa and he is grateful to Mark Hughes for saving him as he prepares to face his former club with Stoke City on Saturday.
Ireland joined Villa from Manchester City in 2010 as part of the deal which took James Milner in the opposite direction, but struggled to establish himself as a regular in the side.
He linked up with Stoke on loan at the start of last season before making the move permanent in January, and has now revealed the extent of the frustration he felt at Villa Park.
Having spent long periods of time training away from the rest of the Villa squad, he was delighted to be reunited at the Britannia Stadium with Hughes, having worked with the manager when they were both at Manchester City.
Speaking about his time with Villa, Ireland told the Daily Star: "They treated me like a toy. I was cast on one side. They even took me to a field on my own to train. It was an absolute nightmare.
"Mark Hughes has rescued me. It was the last day of the window and I was thinking to myself 'what am I going to do?
"I couldn't stay for another year, training on my own. There was just me and the fitness coach in a field on my own.
"The worst thing for me is people's perception that I must have been causing problems. It couldn't be further from the truth.
"I had sleepless nights. I was restless. It wasn't good. My mind was somewhere else. I was worrying, but it's all done with now."
Ireland cannot understand why he was sidelined at Villa but is now just concentrating on the future with Stoke and is determined to play a key role this season.
He said: "I don't feel I was given the chances. It's difficult not to feel hard dome by. You look at Villa now and all the guys who were bombed out are back in the frame again.
"I can't do anything about the past. Al I can do is influence the future and that's what I'm planning to do. I'm still only 27 and I feel that I have plenty to offer. I'm hoping for a good, strong season.
"I want a massive season, both personally and for the team. I feel like I'm back on top of my game. I want to play every second of every game."