Stephen Ireland talks comebacks, tough times as a young player with Man City and getting the better of Messi

Stephen Ireland talks comebacks, tough times as a young player with Man City and getting the better of Messi
Stephen Ireland racing past the Wales defence to score the match winner in the European qualifying game at Croke Park in 2007. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

STEPHEN Ireland is ready to redeem himself in an Ireland shirt.

Provided of course he can secure a new contract with an English club. The Cobh native, a gifted playmaker in his '20s at Man City, who has struggled with injuries in recent years was last on Bolton's books, without featuring.

Now he claims he's still got the talent to thrive at the top, in a fascinating interview withThe Athletic worth reading in full here:

https://theathletic.com/1884118/2020/06/24/stephen-ireland-onuoha-manchester-city-play-again-anelka-messi/

Ireland still resides in Manchester and new Man United star Bruno Fernandes lives nearby. 

“He told me that, as a kid, he had a poster of me,” Ireland explained to Daniel Taylor.

Ireland in a Man United kit as a youngster when he went to Old Trafford for the Bobby Charlton Skills Finals. 
Ireland in a Man United kit as a youngster when he went to Old Trafford for the Bobby Charlton Skills Finals. 

“He said that when he played Football Manager he always signed me. I was like, ‘You had me on a poster? And, seriously, you sign me for Football Manager?’ I mean, how weird is that?” 

Ireland, though 34 later this summer and a long way from when he used to star in the Cork Schoolboys League, has been staying sharp with regular five-a-side action featuring Darren Fletcher and Wes Brown.

“I really believe I have three or four years left in me, minimum. Physically, I feel 27 or 28. I just want to get motoring again because there is so much more to come out of me.

“I feel if I went to League One or the Championship, I can really give it a good go. I will give it everything. I’ve broken bones before and I’m willing to break bones again. I’m not ready to stop. I’m going back because I have so much unfinished business.”

Chelsea's Brazilian midfielder Oscar vies with Stoke City's Irish midfielder Stephen Ireland. Picture: Getty Images
Chelsea's Brazilian midfielder Oscar vies with Stoke City's Irish midfielder Stephen Ireland. Picture: Getty Images

Ireland also revealed that Darren Fletcher told him Alex Ferguson held the skillful midfielder in high regard during the period he was awarded Man City's Player of the Year. 

“What I like is when I hear feedback from the United guys and they say, ‘Every time we played City and we had team meetings, he (Alex Ferguson) would only talk about you’. They say Ferguson used to tell them I was the only one to worry about. 

"It was, ‘Man-mark Ireland, stop Ireland — wherever he goes, follow him’. I’d have Darren Fletcher following me the whole match.” 

In the in-depth piece, he gives a fascinating insight into the hazing culture young players used to suffer when trying to breakthrough in England, his admiration for former team-mate Nicholas Anelka and why he believes he would been good enough to hang tough with Messi at Barcelona. 

“We played against Barcelona in pre-season and I was the best player on the pitch by a country mile. Messi was playing. He went on one of his mad runs and I just thought, ‘I have to tackle him’. I did this massive hook tackle on him. It was an amazing tackle.

“There were four or five times when I read his passes and intercepted them. I went round him. I gave him the eyes and went a different way. It was cool, really cool, to be out there with him. On occasions like that, you’re more alert, you try harder. You run quicker, you see more. I’m built for that.”

Ireland at Capwell Sports Bar with members of the Cork Manchester City Supporters Club: Joe Gill, Joe Carroll, Paul and Gary Stanton. Picture: Philip Daly
Ireland at Capwell Sports Bar with members of the Cork Manchester City Supporters Club: Joe Gill, Joe Carroll, Paul and Gary Stanton. Picture: Philip Daly

The former Cobh underage player was signed by Man City when he was just 15 and is still associated with 'Grannygate', which prematurely ended his international career after four goals in six starts.

"The dream would be: get back with a club, smash it, go back to Ireland, and undo all that scenario."

He explained he would have loved to have committed to his country, but instead focused on raising two kids as a single parent, the eldest now an England U16 international in his own right. 

"It came down to prioritising. Can I leave my kids for two weeks to play for Ireland? As much as I’d loved to have done that, I couldn’t. I was away at matches, stressed out of my head because of my kids. I had no support. I had to pick option A or option B. But of course, I wish things could have been different.

“Why wouldn’t I want to play for my country 150 times? Why wouldn’t I want to be an Irish hero? Who would turn their nose up at that? Why would it ever be my agenda to be disliked in Ireland?"

Ireland, whose Kennedy Cup team at U14 featured future Cork All-Ireland winning footballer Michael Shields, played for Villa after leaving Man City, as well as Newcastle, briefly, and Stoke City.

Benjani and Stephen Ireland scored for Manchester City against Schalke in the 2008 UEFA Cup. Picture: Getty Images
Benjani and Stephen Ireland scored for Manchester City against Schalke in the 2008 UEFA Cup. Picture: Getty Images

For more, check out Barry O'Donovan's column on the mercurial talent: 

https://www.echolive.ie/corksport/One-of-the-most-gifted-Cork-soccer-players-ever-Stephen-Ireland-could-have-been-a-superstar-403167fc-1bd8-46f4-8f16-6a92e0870d4b-ds


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