Shaun Maloney has no intention of leaving Aston Villa and is happy to stay in the Midlands and fight for his place – according to his agent.
That was the message last night after speculation had mounted that the diminutive striker was considering a move either to join Roy Keane at Sunderland or return to his former club Celtic.
Maloney joined Villa from Celtic 18 months ago but found it hard to settle in the Midlands initially, later admitting he was regularly driving back to Scotland in between matches to be with his family.
But all those worries seemed to ease midway through this season with Maloney finally making a permanent move to live in Birmingham. His frustration however at the lack of opportunities for him starting games at Villa is thought to have promoted all the recent speculation about his future.
Agent John Halliwell however insisted last night that all the talk was pure speculation and said his client was now settled at Villa and wanted to stay. He said: “Martin O’Neill does rate him highly.
“The sooner Shaun settled down the better it was for all concerned and he is focused on winning his place back next season which I am sure he will.
“He still has three years to go and there are no problems whatsoever with Shaun and Villa. Nothing has changed. When I tell you it is the truth, I promise it is the truth.
“It’s that time of the year when Shaun is linked with clubs and this is going to happen every transfer window. Other people keep telling me what is going on but I can tell you he isn’t going anywhere.
“Shaun has been away with Scotland but we played golf last week and he is happy at Villa.”
And former Celtic star Murdo MacLeod said he would advise Maloney would be to stay with Villa and fight for a place in O’Neill’s side.
He also claimed Maloney would struggle to get a game in Gordon Strachan’s current side so much has it changed since the day the youngster left.
MacLeod, who made more than 280 appearances for Celtic between 1978 and 1987, said Maloney - the Scottish Premier League’s Player of the Year in 2005-6 - should have listened to advice up in Scotland at the time not to leave Celtic too soon.
He told a Scottish newspaper: “Since moving to Aston Villa, Shaun has failed to make an impression in the English Premiership and he must stay where he is and rebuild not just his game but, more importantly, his confidence.
“Time has moved on and Aiden McGeady has taken over the mantle at Celtic as the key creative spark so there isn’t a role for Shaun at the moment.
“There were enough shrewd judges, Tommy Burns included, who told Shaun he should stay in Glasgow after his magnificent season in 2005-2006. It was too early to leave and he was told as much.
“But the lure of following Martin O’Neill proved too strong and it was a huge mistake, although he shouldn’t compound it by believing coming back to Scotland is the answer.
“He must stay at Villa in an attempt to recapture the form that marked him out as one of Scottish football’s outstanding young talents in recent years.”
MacLeod said he was glad Maloney had also ruled out a possible move across the Old Firm divide to Rangers. He said: “When you look at a player such as Maurice Johnston, who crossed the Old Firm divide by signing for both clubs, you see it can be done but Shaun isn’t equipped with a personality like MoJo.
“Maurice loved the limelight, he loved the pressure of handling the fall-out of having moved from one end of the city to the other, but Shaun is an introverted character who lacks that big-time confidence.
“Maloney should stay where he is and tough it out in a bid to get his career back on track to become the player we all know he can be.”