Thaksin targets Uefa Cup spot for shining City

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The Independent Football

The Manchester City owner, Thaksin Shinawatra, believes Uefa Cup qualification is now a realistic aim for the club this season following his remarkable start to life as the owner of a Premier League club.

Having produced one masterstroke in appointing Sven Goran Eriksson as manager, Thaksin has seen the former England manager deliver a few more with signings such as Elano, Martin Petrov and Vedran Corluka. As a result, City are third in the Premier League and head to Portsmouth on Sunday looking to put daylight between themselves and one of their rivals for a top-six spot.

For while even the most optimistic among the long-suffering City supporters accept a Champions League place is out of reach, qualification for Europe for the first time – Fair Play petitions excepted – in almost 30 years, is definitely within reach.

"When I first started to discuss buying Manchester City we hoped to be in the top 10 but now I think we can get into the Uefa Cup," Thaksin said yesterday. "This club is a sleeping giant. I am glad to be the one to wake that giant."

Having already provided Eriksson with £40m for new players during the summer, Thaksin is promising the former England manager more funds when the transfer window re-opens in January.

With Rolando Bianchi proving to be a rare failure for Eriksson and Valeri Bojinov still some way short of returning following a cruciate knee ligament injury, a new striker is a priority, while a renewed attempt to sign Parma's combative midfielder Marco Bresciano cannot be ruled out either. "I thought we would bring success to this club but I did not expect it to be this quick," Thaksin added.

"There is a blend of the old players and the new. They are playing so well together and there is a good team spirit. Everything is coming together quite quickly."

The one unwanted problem Eriksson has had to deal with this term is the fall-out from Stephen Ireland's withdrawal from international duty. Having lied to the then Republic of Ireland manager Steve Staunton about the deaths of both his grandmothers to cover up the fact his partner had suffered a miscarriage, Eriksson has tried and failed to convince the 21-year-old to rejoin the Irish camp.

Instead, Ireland has declined to return calls to Staunton's temporary replacement Don Givens ahead of the squad announcement for next week's match with Wales in Cardiff, drawing a stinging rebuke from the Football Association of Ireland technical advisor Sir Bobby Robson.

"He needs help, he needs guidance and he needs counselling," Robson told "We have tried talking to him but he doesn't want to know. He is very important to us but he is not making himself available.

"He has told us he won't play for the Republic this season but it may be OK for the start of next year's World Cup qualifying matches. I find it quite mysterious he can play for Manchester City but not for his country."

Ireland hardly helped himself with a bizarre celebration of his matchwinner against Sunderland on Monday night when he pulled down his shorts to reveal a pair of skimpy briefs with a "Superman" logo.

The Football Association has decided the incident was worthy of nothing more than a minor telling off, which was greeted with relief at Eastlands given Michael Johnson will miss the next couple of matches after being sent for surgery on his abdominal muscle.

Yet Ireland says his off-field problems have never proved to be a distraction.

"It has not been tough concentrating on football," he said. "There are so many great people at City who have helped me and stood by me and are continuing to do so. I have gone into every game with a clear mind, with the aim of working hard and hopefully letting the football shine.

"What I am looking for is to find some consistency to my game and not look back. Hopefully that goal will kick-start my season in terms of goalscoring because it is vital that everyone contributes. Michael Johnson had been giving me some stick about not scoring, so I was delighted to shut him up."