Aston Villa midfielder Stephen Ireland today revealed the opportunity to mentor some of the club’s younger players is one he has relished.
At 26 Ireland is now one of the older heads in the dressing room after Villa manager Paul Lambert overhauled the squad, but has enjoyed the extra responsibility of being a senior pro.
“The players here aren’t half getting younger! I find myself one of the experienced ones at Villa, which is a change,” said Ireland.
“I’ve never been in that position before. I wouldn’t look at them as competition. I like it when home-grown lads come through, especially if they deserve it, work hard to be where they are. That’s a real good story.
“I want to give them advice, help them with their decision making. That step up from youth to reserve to first team is massive.
“When I was trying to get into the first team at City, I’d been in the reserves since I was 16/17, playing with Richard Dunne, Robbie Fowler, and Steve McManaman, really experienced.
“I picked up from them. So with the young lads coming in and training with us, I hope to help them like I was helped.”
Meanwhile, Villa’s Academy has been awarded category one status after independent audit of the club’s youth development programmes, which forms part of the Premier League Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
The EPPP is a long-term plan to aid youth development and allow category one clubs to recruit any player aged 14 and upwards from anywhere in the country.
Villa chief executive Paul Faulkner said: “We are delighted to have secured category one status for our Academy, something we view as fundamental to our strategy moving forward.
“The chairman, Randy Lerner, has strongly supported our Academy from the outset and over the past six-and-a-half years the investment in developing young players, in terms of the facilities at Bodymoor right through to our efforts in recruitment and providing for the young players who come through, has been substantial.
“That commitment will remain steadfast and the club’s achievement in securing category one status and leading the way is testament to the way we do things and the values and standards we strive always to maintain.”
* Winger Marc Albrighton and promising striker Graham Burke both found the net for Villa’s Under-21 side as claimed a 2-1 win over Sunderland last night.