Greek side set to contest Magpies for Ireland signature

DEBUT APPROACHING: Newcastle's Stephen Ireland

DEBUT APPROACHING: Newcastle's Stephen Ireland

First published in Football The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Football/Golf Writer

NEWCASTLE UNITED will face competition from Greece if they decide to pursue the permanent transfer of Stephen Ireland.

Ireland has declared he has recovered from his knee injury and ready to make his first appearance for the Magpies following his January loan move from Aston Villa.

It was during the transfer window that Panathinaikos also showed an interest in the energetic midfielder, with that expected to be renewed when the season is over.

The Athens club are hoping to strike a deal with Villa over the player’s reputed £70,000-a-week wages – a figure Newcastle are unwilling to match.

But Newcastle manager Alan Pardew will do everything within his power to keep the Irishman if he proves to be a success in the final ten games of the season.

Villa are desperate to move the 24-year-old on full-time and would have preferred if a permanent deal could have been struck in January.

However, with Ireland satisfied his knee problem has gone, Pardew is now likely to get the chance to see him at close hand in first team action.

Joey Barton remains a doubt for this Saturday’s date with Everton with the thigh problem that forced him to withdraw 20 minutes before the draw with Bolton kicked off.

And because Barton’s replacement, Ryan Taylor, faces a three-match ban for the reckless challenge on striker Johan Elmander, Ireland was quick to inform his manager of his desire to face Everton.

The former Manchester City man is keen to prove himself at St James’ Park, having been given a chance to forget about the way Gerard Houllier was quick to discard him at Villa Park.

Interest from Panathinaikos is clearly another option for him, but he has hinted that his preference would be to stay on Tyneside – if all parties can agree on a way of lowering his significant pay packet.

Ireland said: “I’ve had a walk around the city and the people here are so nice and polite. They come up and shake your hand and say ‘all the best here’.

“It is nice and I’ve got a good feeling for the place. I’ve felt settled really fast. For me, it has all been positive so far.

“As soon as I got the heads up that it was almost done I was ready to pack my bag and go. I was getting myself sorted to come here.”

Pardew will not rush in to a decision about who will face Everton on the right of midfield because he is keen to give Barton every chance to recover.

But he admitted earlier this week that Ireland’s decision to text him after Taylor’s dismissal was well received.

Pardew said: “Stephen actually wanted to play against Bolton and now he could make his debut against Everton.

You want players desperate to play.”

Pardew, meanwhile, has moved to play down his earlier claims Hatem Ben Arfa will have recovered fully from his leg break in October in time to face Wolves on April 2.

That remains the player’s target, but the Newcastle boss admits the Frenchman has plenty of work to do to achieve his goal having had an extended break.

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