In the spotlight

Published : Jan 17, 2009 00:00 IST



Stephen Ireland progressed through the youth ranks at Manchester City, breaking into the first team in the 2005-2006 season, and he has been almost an ever-present in the starting line-up in the last two seasons, writes Neil McDonald.

Stephen Ireland has been in good form this season for Manchester City, playing some of the best football of his career and even outshining record signing Robinho in some games. But his career to date has often been as controversial and colourful as it has been impressive.

The Irishman progressed through the youth ranks at City, breaking into the first team in the 2005-2006 season, and he has been almost an ever-present in the starting line-up in the last two seasons.

He joined Manchester City when he was just 15 from Irish side Cobh Ramblers and quickly worked his way through the ranks. After some impressive performances in City’s reserve team he made his debut at 19 as an 81st-minute substitute against Bolton on September 18, 2005.

Ireland has developed a reputation as a goal-scoring midfielder, but it was more than a year after his debut that he netted his first goal for the club, scoring in a 1-0 win against Sheffield United in late 2006.

He has since gone on to establish himself as a key player in the City side, first under Sven-Goran Eriksson and more recently under current boss Mark Hughes.

However, controversy has often surrounded Ireland in recent years and in 2007-2008 he was given a warning by the English FA after he celebrated a goal against Sunderland by dropping his shorts to reveal underpants featuring the Superman logo. He has also made headlines of the wrong sort while on international duty with the Republic of Ireland, for whom he has played six times.

At under-18 level he had a dispute with coach Brian Kerr which saw him axed from the side and that had further repercussions on his international career when Kerr was given the task of managing the senior side.

Following the appointment of Steve Staunton in January 2006, Ireland was called up to his first squad a month later and the midfielder won his first cap against Sweden.

Ireland made an immediate impact and scored his first goal for his country in the 5-2 defeat against Cyprus in October 2006.

But his international career came to an abrupt end in September 2007 following a high-profile incident in which he wanted to leave the squad ahead of a crucial European Championship qualifier against the Czech Republic on compassionate grounds, citing the death of his grandmother.

The media soon discovered, though, that his grandmother was, in fact, not dead.

Ireland eventually admitted that his girlfriend had actually suffered a miscarriage and that he had lied about the death of his grandmother in order to return home quicker.

He has not played for his country since after deciding to take a break from international football, but his father Michael — himself a former Ireland under-21 international — has hinted recently that his son could be ready to make himself available for upcoming games.

“The country needs him, he’s a good player and he’ll go back in his own time,” said Michael Ireland. “He’s just focusing on his family right now and Manchester City.”

Ireland admits he “deeply regrets” the events surrounding his withdrawal from the Ireland squad in 2007. “My girlfriend was distraught and explained that she had just suffered a miscarriage,” Ireland said in a statement at the time. “Jessica said she was very lonely and wanted me to come home.

She thought they might let me home quicker if they thought my grandmother had died. I told the manager that my grandmother had died and I wanted to go home immediately.” The player went on to express his “profound apologies” to Staunton, the Irish FA, his Ireland team-mates, Manchester City and above all “to my grandmothers and all my family for any distress I have caused them.” Ireland’s girlfriend Jessica is from his home town of Cork in the Republic of Ireland.

Ireland currently has a customised Overfinch Range Rover Sport which sports pink alloy wheels and an imposing grill. It is believed the car cost him in the region of GBP90,000.

FactfileName: Stephen IrelandPosition: MidfielderClub: Manchester CityD.O.B.: 22/08/1986Republic of Ireland caps: 6Republic of Ireland goals: 4

Republic of Ireland debut: v Sweden, February 2006

Moment to remember

Ireland’s form at club level has been highly impressive this season but his career highlight came when he was the first Irish player to score a goal at Croke Park — the historic ground that is being used as a stand-in for the country’s football matches while the traditional Lansdowne Road home is being redeveloped — in a 1-0 win against Wales.

Moment to forget

Ireland was part of the Manchester City side that lost 1-8 to Middlesbrough in the last game of the 2007-2008 EPL season. It proved to be the final straw for manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, who left the club that summer.

© PA Sport, 2009, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.

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