Aston Villa winger Ashley Young may be the early favourite to bag the PFA Young Player of the Year award following the announcement of this year's nominations.
However, in an exclusive interview with FourFourTwo.com, former Republic of Ireland manager Steve Staunton has sung the praises of fellow countryman Stephen Ireland, who is also among the contenders. “He’s a wonderful player and he’s got the lot,” said Staunton, who gave Ireland his first international caps before controversy saw the player effectively retire from international football two years ago.
“Stephen Ireland is, for me, the best young midfielder we [the Republic of Ireland] brought through. He scored four goals in seven games for me from midfield, which is a goal ratio most strikers would be proud of.” Staunton’s praise for the Manchester City man is all the more noteworthy considering his difficulties with the player in the past.
In September 2007, Ireland withdrew from the national squad due to the death of his grandmother, although it was later discovered that his grandmother was alive and well.
He has not played for his country since, and insists that despite new manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s keenness to have him back, he is not tempted to rejoin the national side. But Staunton still recognises the quality that saw him call up Ireland in the first place.
“His all-round ability is fantastic,” he enthused. “He’s a great technician, he can score goals, but people don’t appreciate the work rate he puts in and for a small man he gets stuck in. So there’s not much more you can ask from him.” Fellow players nominated Ireland for the Young Player of the Year award, alongside Aston Villa duo Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor, Spurs winger Aaron Lennon and Manchester United defensive pair Jonny Evans and Rafael.
And amidst the usual criticism centring around a foreign invasion of the Premier League, a strong British contingent is noticeable in the nominees, with Rafael the only exception.
Three of the six nominees for the PFA Player of the Year are also British, in the form of Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard. The winners will be announced on April 26.
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