Stephen Ireland came to Aston Villa in 2010 as the makeweight in the James Milner to Manchester City move. Since then, he's largely been a disappointment. Since he came to Villa, it seems as if the club and fans perform the same futile task every time the transfer window opens: a rumour appears saying that Ireland is leaving, serious interest seems to form, the window closes and we all look around to find Ireland still here. "Well, I guess we'll just push him up the hill again next time," we collectively say.
This time it's Middlesbrough who are seriously eyeing Ireland. Middlesbrough manger Tony Mowbray has asked for first refusal if Villa plan on making a move for Ireland. It's hard to really tell what this means though. It could be a matter of Mowbray looking at other targets, but wanting to keep tabs on Ireland. A sort of, "Well, if I don't find anything better, I guess I'll take this." Or it could be Mowbray's way of holding out as long as is possible, possibly to avoid paying wages for Ireland when I doesn't have to.
And speaking of those wages, the £65,000 per week that Ireland is getting seems to be a major sticking point in any discussions over the former Ireland international. At this point, it's likely that Villa will end up paying some of them even if he does leave. Like the Darren Bent situation, though, anything at this point is free money and Villa should take whatever they can get. They've got little to no leverage in the negotiations, as Paul Lambert has made it clear that Ireland has no place on the squad.
So let's all hope that Middlebrough really do want Stephen Ireland, because I'm not looking forward to pushing that rock up the hill again.