Roberto Mancini believes that Stephen Ireland's doubts about his future at Manchester City are purely psychological and that he can restore him to the levels of the 2008/9 season if this aspect of his complex make-up can be resolved.
Ireland declared last week that he has doubts about his future at City and suggested that it is in the club's hands whether he remains there next season. But Mancini, who has already spoken directly to the player once, has said he is intent on doing so again in order to revitalise one of the fans' favourite players. "I spoke to Stephen two weeks ago but we must speak again," Mancini said. "I don't know what he is thinking about his future but, for me, Stephen is a fantastic player and if he can change his head I think he can start to play like last season again."
Ireland's unwillingness to remain a part of the Republic of Ireland set-up after what he claimed last November to have been years of unhappiness in the international camp has illustrated that he is a player in need of encouragement and he certainly flourished under Mark Hughes. But despite being named player of the year for the 2008/9 season and being rewarded with a new five-year contract, he struggled to fit in among the new arrivals last season, and has completed 90 minutes only twice since Mancini arrived at the club. Ireland's £60,000-a-week deal is due to be increased to £70,000 a week next season and £80,000 a week for the final three years, though Sunderland are understood to be among those clubs who feel they can offer him regular football and are also prepared to match the money on offer.
Mancini has flown out to Abu Dhabi where yesterday he was preparing to talk to chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak. Mancini will not see the club's owner, Sheikh Mansour, whom he has still never met.