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Celtic and Everton continue to lead the chase to sign Aston Villa playmaker Stephen Ireland in January, according to The Birmingham Mail.

Ireland has told his agent he wants to leave Villa in the winter transfer window, and club manager Gerard Houllier has said of the Irish midfielder: “Once a player wants to go, he goes.”

Celtic boss and Ulsterman Neil Lennon is thought to be looking at a half-season loan deal to bring the former Manchester City player to Parkhead, though Ireland’s high wage demands could prove to be a major stumbling block for the Glasgow giants.

Ireland is said to be unhappy after failing to make an impact at Villa and being left out of the squad for the last two games.

The midfielder only joined the Villans in August in a player-plus-cash deal with Manchester City, which saw James Milner leave Villa Park for Eastlands.

After joining City aged 15, Ireland had an impressive start with the Manchester club, even earning himself Player of the Year recognition in the 2008-09 season. But after the new Abu Dhabi-based  owners arrived at Eastlands and appointed Roberto Mancini as manager, he found himself surplus to requirements.

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