Alex McLeish has challenged Aston Villa midfielder Stephen Ireland to recapture his "world-class form" of two years ago.

Ireland's days at Villa looked numbered when loaned out by the then manager Gerard Houllier to Newcastle for the second half of last season. But the slate has been wiped clean for Ireland and another outcast in Stephen Warnock since McLeish replaced Houllier in mid June.

McLeish said: "Stephen has a lot to offer. A couple of years ago that guy was verging on world-class stuff (with Manchester City) It's about him recapturing that kind of form. We will try our best. We will keep trying. We're not about to give up on big investments on Stephen. He's a very important member of the squad."

Ireland is concentrating on building up his physical strength after little first-team football during the past two years.

McLeish said: "His conditioning has left him prone to little niggles, hamstrings etc. It's another task for our sports science team to be working on that side of it in the gym.

"We have the facilities to help the players. They are not wanting for anything on that side of things."

Meanwhile, McLeish has praised the versatility of veteran striker Emile Heskey and admits he would even play him at centre-half if required.

Heskey was employed effectively as the link man between the midfield and front players during last weekend's 3-1 home triumph over Blackburn.

He said: "I see Emile as a very versatile player, playing in a lot of positions.

"Seriously, he might even one day have to fill in at centre-half and I'm sure he can do that as well."

Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.

Topics:
#Football
#Stephen Ireland
#Manchester City
#Blackburn Rovers
#Emile Heskey
#Premier League
#Newcastle United
#Alex
#Stephen Warnock
#Aston Villa