sport

Ireland: Hughes saved me

Stephen Ireland credits Mark Hughes with saving his career as he prepares to sign a new long-term contract at Stoke City.

The midfielder admits he was going nowhere after becoming stuck in a rut at Aston Villa, where he struggled to produce his best following a 2010 move from Manchester City.

His cause was not helped by the fact that he played under five different managers, with continuity sadly lacking.

Ireland was, however, offered a lifeline by Stoke last summer, on an initial loan agreement, and his fine form under Hughes' guidance has seen him land a permanent switch in January and the offer of fresh terms.

The 27-year-old said when pressed on whether the Potters boss had rescued his career: "Absolutely, those are the first words that came out of my mouth when I got the call.

"I would have done anything to get the chance to come here. I'm really grateful that I have. I'm 27 and there's so much more I want to do in football.

"I'm still exactly the same player. I've always had a lot to offer, I've always been enthusiastic and hungry.

"But the Villa thing is a really long, strange story, purely because I had five managers in two-and-a-half seasons.

"For some reason, as soon as they walked through the door, they decided I wasn't for them - no matter about all my good intentions. It didn't matter.

"In the summer, it was difficult for me to know where I was going to be. Would I be playing in the Championship? Would I be going on loan? My time at Villa wasn't very nice, you're going to lose a bit of passion when you train on your own for six months.

"When you're on your own with a football for that amount of time, you wonder what direction you're going to go in.

"What direction can you go in? My hands were tied. Thankfully I've come here and things are starting to go well.

"I just thank Stoke for bringing me in and taking care of me. I want to repay them with my performances."

On a possible new three-year deal, Ireland added: "Yes, we're in talks. They've been going on for a while but there's no pressure from the club at the moment.

"There's no major rush right now. I think something will be done pretty soon."