Stephen Ireland blasts Manchester City after leaving for Aston Villa
• Mancini 'doesn't have a relationship with players'
• Milner 'in for a big shock' when he gets to Eastlands
The Irishman was prevented from discussing the details of the financial pay-off he received from City because of a confidentiality agreement he has signed – he is believed to have picked up a little more than half the £2m he was demanding – but every other subject was considered fair game as he reeled off a list of complaints that painted a bleak picture of his final 12 months at City. Ireland's tirade included:
• Warning James Milner he will get a shock if he thinks the grass is greener at City
• Claiming Mancini has no relationship with any of the players
• Insisting he is as good as if not better than any of the new signings
• Accusing City's young players of wearing £10,000 watches and believing they are Premier League stars
• Describing City as a club where loyalty is no longer recognised
• Branding Mancini's criticism of his attitude unfair because he was the "best player in training"
It was a remarkable assault on City and will make for uncomfortable reading when the club's officials, players and supporters wade though Ireland's diatribe. The midfielder, who is expected to make his Villa debut at Newcastle on Sunday on his 24th birthday, spoke about City as if they were a club he could not wait to leave. "I think Aston Villa got a really good deal," he said. "I guess James Milner must think the grass is greener on the other side. He's going to get a shock soon because it's definitely not that way.
"I've really landed on my feet here. I think it's a family club and one that will get the best out of me. I am actually shocked at how good it is. I've settled in so well, so fast. Even the young lads are so polite. I'm actually quite shocked with that. At City they're not like that. They're coming in with £10,000 watches on their wrists and walking around as if they have played 200 Premier League games."
Ireland, who has a reputation for spending his own money quite lavishly, came through City's youth system and spent nine years at the club, but he felt as though the service he gave them counted for nothing in the end.
"I don't think loyalty is much in anyone's mind at Manchester City," he said. "I felt like I would be next [to leave]. A lot of players felt like that as well – the homegrown guys."
The former City trainee said he had not spoken a word to Mancini before he left although he suggested there is little communication between the manager and his former team-mates full stop. "He doesn't really build relationships with players," said Ireland. "He brought Patrick Vieira in and when I spoke to him about his relationship [with Mancini], he said he doesn't really have one, and he's worked for him for years. I think that's the way he is."
Ireland won the player of the year award at City in 2009 but he was a peripheral figure last season, in particular after Mancini replaced Mark Hughes in December. When asked about Ireland's lack of action last season, the Italian implied the midfielder had an attitude problem, when he claimed he needed to "change his head". Ireland remains deeply upset with those comments.
"I think that was really unfair, all the players know I was the first player into training and the last to leave," he said. "I worked the hardest. With all the heart-rate monitors and tests, I was always No1, far ahead of everyone. You see the performance in training and I was practically always the best player in training. If [Mancini's] standing there watching that, I don't know how he doesn't see that."
Another wave of big names have arrived at Eastlands this summer but Ireland claimed he is as good as any of them. "I'm not really a highly-self-confident person," he said, with no hint of what was to come. "But I can honestly say Manchester City have tried to replace me for the last three or four seasons and it's never happened. I can easily say I've got, if not more ability, as much ability as any player they have signed this year."
Ireland described the way his time with City ended as "heartbreaking" but he is adamant he is heading in the right direction. "I can understand why James Milner has gone there but I can tell him that I'm very happy to leave there and come here," he said. "Some people have used the phrase that I've been forced out. I couldn't be more happy to be forced to come here, to a club like Aston Villa."
Whilst I don't think it's the most tasteful thing to snipe at a former club, I get the distinct impression that Ireland is quite a different character from Richard Dunne (who left City last year to join Villa in similar circumstances; Dunne was a makeweight for Gareth Barry), and holding his counsel when pissed off is not really what he does. And to be honest, he is well within his right to feel pissed off at the way the club that he spent a good deal of his career with has disintegrated into a circus.
In The Guardian today is also a lush Michael Essien interview:
For Michael Essien, memories of the monotony persist. Back when the English summer was sun-drenched he had rarely deviated from a set daily routine. He would arrive at Chelsea's near deserted training centre in Cobham for 10am, then gain what little variety he could by mixing and matching between exercise bikes, cross trainers, treadmills, weights and lengths of the swimming pool. The work-out, prolonged and painful, ended at 5pm with another energy sapping pigeon step taken on the road to recovery.
By early evening he would be back at home in front of the television to watch team-mates and compatriots participate in the World Cup finals, a stage that might have been his. The drudgery of life in rehabilitation might have left others numbed, the loneliness of intensive fitness work when denied the camaraderie of pre-season training affecting their state of mind, but Essien is stronger than that. "John Mikel Obi would be in doing his own work, and a couple of the reserve team players, but that was it, though it was not a problem for me," he says. "I'm the kind of person who likes to be lonely. I got my head down and focused on getting fit. To be back playing now makes the hard work well worth it."
There is a purring enthusiasm to the Ghanaian that suggests he is now intent upon making up for lost time. Essien has endured lengthy spells on the sidelines in the past two seasons, the serious injuries serving to nullify his impact. He ripped his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee two seasons ago while playing for Ghana, damage that excluded him for more than five months and, therefore, virtually the entirety of Luiz Felipe Scolari's tenure at the club. In January, when concern had centred more on the state of a hamstring torn a month earlier, he wrecked the cartilage and meniscus in the same joint while training at the African Cup of Nations in Angola.
The loud click heard by all present that day had signalled the end of his participation in a season that yielded the club's first Premier League and FA Cup Double. He scheduled a 10-day break at the end of the season ahead of the anticipated hefty working summer and promptly succumbed to a nasty bout of tonsillitis that dragged on for a week. In that sorry context, his glee at a return to first-team football is utterly understandable.
The midfielder, along with Mikel, played in all five of the champions' pre-season friendlies and West Bromwich Albion faced a familiar rampaging figure last Saturday in Chelsea's 6-0 opening-day win. "It was great to be back," says Essien. "There's relief there, too, of course. It was so frustrating to be back in that position, out of the team and in the treatment room, but these things happen. The knee is fine. There has been no reaction, either after training or after games. If anything, it feels stronger than before. I'm not scared to go into tackles with it. Not at all.
"I suppose I knew what to expect. I'd been injured the previous year, and I'm a strong guy mentally. I've learned to be. I just got working hard to get myself fit. There are times when it is hard, when you're on the outside, but I can honestly say that winning the Premier League last season meant as much to me as it did in my first season at the club. I still managed to enjoy the occasion with everyone, feel part of it, and was on the pitch after the Wigan game in May celebrating with everyone. The emotion was just the same as winning it that first year under José [Mourinho], when I'd played more of a part in the season. I have a medal and it means as much to me. Sure, you wish you could be out on the pitch, or going up to pick up the FA Cup, but you have to be realistic: everything was about keeping focused, getting over the injury and getting fit again."
Essien played 14 league games last season, and a meagre 11 the season before, but was still offered a contract extension this summer that should extend his stay at Stamford Bridge to a decade. Carlo Ancelotti will be rejoicing to have his midfield dynamo restored to the fold, with the 27-year-old offering him rare options. He was employed in a familiar position on the right of a narrow midfield three against West Brom, with licence to spring forward and unsettle nervous opponents. Yet he retains the ability to anchor that central trio – a role offered to Mikel last Saturday – and, unlike a more conventional Claude Makélelé clone, can still boast that explosive thrust through the middle.
At his best, the midfielder is irrepressible, his energy infectious and driving his team-mates on. Ancelotti can use him as a lynchpin as he seeks to integrate the £18.2m Brazilian Ramires into the set-up in the weeks and months ahead. The options available to the manager appear mouthwatering. "People are saying I'm one of the new signings this year, and I am looking forward to playing more consistently after missing so much of the last two seasons," says Essien, speaking at a Barclays Spaces for Sports event. "This can be a big season. I don't think I've still got things to show Carlo Ancelotti. He has seen me play a lot, even before he was our manager, and he knows what I can do. It's not as if I have anything to prove to him. He knows I will go out there and work really hard for the team every week.
"It is an exciting time. Some players have left but Ramires has come in, a player I haven't seen much of but getting into the Brazilian team is not easy, so he must be good. I hope I can work well with him. It will be up to the manager where we all play. I've always enjoyed getting forward, pushing up-field to help us in our attacks, but I think you can still do that from a central position too. You don't have to sit deep all the time. But, wherever I play, it is joyful being in a team that's playing like this at the moment. We're scoring goals and there's freedom in our play.
"The manager asks us to get forward more often and create problems for opponents. People said he was a defensive coach at Milan, but maybe he has a different kind of player here than he had in Italy. You can see how he wants us to play every week. Teams struggle when they come to Stamford Bridge and, if we score one or two, everything seems to open up for us. We need to work hard to get into that position in the first place, but you can see what happens once we are ahead."
Chelsea have been untouchable in their most recent Premier League contests. This is a team who have plundered 47 goals in their 10 games at Stamford Bridge since the turn of the year, and 21 in their last three. There have been regular avalanches after half-time as desperate opponents seek a route back into contests. Wigan will tremble at the prospect of confronting the champions this afternoon having shipped eight to them on the final day of last season in south-west London and four on the opening afternoon to unfancied Blackpool. Ancelotti's team, though, were defeated at the DW Stadium early last season – their first loss under the Italian – and will be wary of enduring a repeat. "But that was last season, that is gone now," adds Essien. Everything about this player is forward thinking.
Michael Essien was appearing at the Linford Christie Outdoor Sports Centre, one of 200 Barclays Spaces for Sports sites created across the UK. The programme aims to revitalise disadvantaged communities and tackle key social issues. To find out more visit www.barclays.com/community/spacesforspor
Ahhh, he is such a legend!! :) Last season was very disappointing for him in so many ways, but I love that he doesn't dwell on past woes, only looks forward to the future. And I think, from interviews, he really does come across as the "Mr anti-Chelsea" to JT's "Mr Chelsea" in many ways, shy, calm, intelligent. Love him.