The longest running on-off transfer of the 2010-2011 season has finally reached a conclusion this afternoon with England international James Milner signing for Manchester City. Aston Villa will receive in the region of £15 million for the midfielder as well as former Republic of Ireland international Stephen Ireland as part of the deal.
Milner’s warning to Manchester City to speed up negotiations and Villa’s declaration that they intended to field the player in Thursday’s Europa League fixture accelerated the transfer which was completed at lunch time today. The English tabloids will now concentrate on Milner’s impact (or lack of it) in an already star-studded midfield at Eastlands as well as the imminent debut of Italian bad-boy Mario Balotelli.
Yet the decision to pay-off Stephen Ireland and sanction the season-long loan of Craig Bellamy brings an end to two players who have contributed much to City’s cause over the past number of years. The departure of two men who have contributed much to the Eastlands club in the past number of seasons is a much more newsworthy item.
Bellamy’s departure has been widely expected following a fall-out between the Welsh striker and Italian manager Roberto Mancini after last season’s defeat to Spurs at Eastlands. The Italian was reported to have been incensed when he saw Bellamy high-five Spurs’ manager Harry Redknapp coming off the pitch following the North London side’s 1-0 victory which secured Champions League football at the expense of City.
Mancini and Bellamy are reported to have not spoken since that fateful night (an allegation denied by Mancini) when Spurs captured fourth spot from City’s grasp.
Redknapp and Tottenham have long coveted Bellamy and the Welsh international would no doubt have added much to Spurs’ Champions League odyssey in the coming months. Mancini refused to sanction a move to a so-called rival for fourth spot and Bellamy looks set to complete a move to Championship side Cardiff later today. It is a move which will surprise many, seeing a player of Bellamy’s talent dropping out of the Premier League.
The decision probably took into account the fact the Welsh international’s children are living in the Cardiff area and that his relationship with Mancini had deteriorated to the point where he faced a season on the sidelines having failed make Man. City’s 25-man Premier League squad.
Bellamy has a history of trouble-making at previous clubs but was always a threat to the opposition whenever he crossed that white line. City may have spent heavily in rebuilding their midfield for the coming assault on the Premier League title (Vieira, Silva, Toure and now Milner) but Bellamy would have still proven to be a more than effective player to have in their ranks.
His ability to move seamlessly between the role of striker and winger would have been invaluable and City may yet regret not keeping the former Newcastle and Liverpool player around should injuries and suspensions mount during the upcoming campaign.
Stephen Ireland made a total of 138 senior appearances for City, scoring 16 times, yellow-carded 9 times and was sent off once since his debut at the start of the 2005/2006 campaign. He is a player with a chequered history off the pitch culminated in his decision to retire early from international football for the Republic of Ireland.
Man City’s player of the year in 2009, Ireland’s majestic abilities in midfield mesmerised opponents and unlocked defences all over the country during one of his best spells at the club under the tutelage of Sven Goran Erickson.
However, Ireland’s apparent inability to work hard off the ball and get back to help out his defence has been suggested as one of the main reasons Roberto Mancini failed to take a liking to the Irishman.
The fact defensive holding midfield players such as De Jong and Kompany have since been chosen as Mancini’s preferred starters in the centre of the park adds credence to the argument.
Ireland (similar to Bellamy) was treated shabbily in his final few days at the club with Mancini insisting he train with the reserves rather than the first team once he had been removed from his 25 man first team panel. The episode is said to have left the former Irish international embarrassed and distraught, but Ireland now has the chance to prove his detractors wrong in the heart of a new, emerging Aston Villa team which includes former international teammate Richard Dunne.
Manchester City have signed a proven England international in James Milner and look set to continue spending heavily in the year’s ahead in an effort to finally reach the holy grail of the Premier League title.
Should City reach that target the contribution of Stephen Ireland and Craig Bellamy should not be forgotten.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled \’Off Centre Circle’, published by the Evening Echo, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork amateur soccer player.