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Ireland close to agreeing new contract with City

Mark Hughes has confirmed Stephen Ireland is close to agreeing a new long-term contract with Manchester City.

The midfielder has been the Blues outstanding player this term, with many observers feeling he was unfortunate to be beaten to the PFA Young Player of the Year trophy by Aston Villa's Ashley Young.

And while Ireland remains indifferent about the prospect of an international comeback with the Republic of Ireland, he has expressed a desire to remain with City.

Further talks have taken place over a new deal, with Hughes optimistic the outcome will be positive.

''We are very close with Stephen,'' confirmed Hughes. ''We had good discussions with him last week and there is intent on both sides.

''We want Stephen to be here for a considerable length of time and he has come out himself and said he wants to spend most of his career here, which was very heartening from our point of view.

''As long as there are no hiccups, and I don't anticipate there will be, it will get done very quickly.''

Despite operating in the same advanced midfield area as Brazilian duo Robinho and Elano, plus returning City hero Shaun Wright-Phillips, Ireland has been by far the Blues' most consistent performer.

The 22-year-old's improvement has been noted at the highest levels of the game, although Hughes still feels there is plenty of work ahead of the Cork-born star if he is to be regarded as a true City hero.

''Stephen is young and has real drive and determination in his play,'' observed Hughes. ''Stephen wants to be the best he can and he wants to be successful.''

Hughes acknowledges Ireland's progress will depend on how City can improve.

After going 33 years without winning a trophy, silverware is long overdue, with Ireland benefiting from the reflected glory should the Blues eventually end their long barren run.

''Only time will tell whether Stephen can scale the heights and be one of the greats for Manchester City,'' said Hughes. ''That will be tied into any success we have. Hopefully he will be part of a very successful period for the club.''

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