When three weeks ago Alex McLeish was shown a picture on a social networking website of a shirtless Stephen Ireland apparently smoking a Middle Eastern shisha pipe it was little wonder a deep furrow crossed his craggy Glaswegian brow.
"I have to say it's not my world, the way players live nowadays," McLeish said. It was, of course, not the first instance of bizarre behaviour on the part of the former Manchester City midfielder; nor, probably, the last.
Yet in spite of the cultural and intellectual gulf between them, the Aston Villa manager has somehow coaxed from the maverick 25-year-old the confidence to express himself on a football field.
In the last month he has been Villa's star turn, scoring his first goal for more than two years in the morale-boosting win at Chelsea and giving another outstanding performance on Saturday that had the home crowd chanting his name.
"It was brilliant to hear that," McLeish said. "I told him there were a few things he could do to endear himself to the Villa fans. Fancy flicks are all well and good but they want to see you graft as well. He has been fantastic at that recently and I think the fans appreciate it."
Ireland believes trust is making the difference. "Probably since I first got here I haven't been given that trust but I have now," he said. "I'm getting a good run of games and I feel like I'm getting better and fitter."
Had the goal he set up for Darren Bent been decisive, it would have made Ireland's day complete but Everton deserved the point won when the excellent Landon Donovan – outshining his LA Galaxy team-mate Robbie Keane's nine-minute Villa debut – created an equaliser for substitute Victor Anichebe.
Bookings: Aston Villa, Albrighton. Everton, Fellaini
Man of the match: Donovan
Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear)
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