Ireland, a City slicker

Stephen Ireland showed an eye for timely and spectacular goals in his first season for City and also spared his country the embarrassment with a late equaliser against San Marino in March 2007, writes Andy Hampson.

Stephen Ireland is a talented attacking midfielder rated as one of the best young prospects in the Barclays English Premier League, already with a colourful career behind him.

Ireland is tipped for a bright future but some extraordinary off and on-field incidents in the past year have overshadowed his play.

He is currently out of the international picture after excusing himself from duty last year by lying about the death of both his grandmothers.

He created further headlines by dropping his shorts after scoring a goal for City but, for all this, he has become an important member of a side transformed from a relegation candidate to European contender under Sven-Goran Eriksson this season.

Ireland first joined City at the age of 15 but his move to England was far from straightforward. He had caught the eye while playing for Cobh Ramblers in Ireland — where his father worked as a coach — and was invited over for trials with English clubs from the age of 11 onwards but he began to suffer from Osgood-Schlatter disease, a condition which affects the knees and bones, in the early to mid-teens.

One trial at Manchester United proved far from successful but he eventually found a home at City. He was recognised as a precocious talent but he soon acquired a reputation for awkwardness.

The first sign of controversy came at an Under-18 tournament when he got into a dispute with national coach, Brian Kerr. There are differing stories of how Ireland ended up watching rather than playing, but the event ended with him refusing to play again under Kerr.

Ireland broke into the City first-team early in the 2005-06 season and soon did enough to earn a three-year contract. Such was his progress that he received his first senior international call-up in February 2006 and he was capped the following month. The call may even have come sooner had Kerr not had a spell as senior manager.

Ireland showed an eye for timely and spectacular goals in his first season for City and also spared his country the embarrassment with a late equaliser against San Marino in March 2007. With an historic winner against Wales coming a few days later, Ireland’s star was in the ascendancy.

Things started to go wrong in September last year when Ireland, away with his country in Slovakia, was informed by manager Steve Staunton that his girlfriend had phoned to tell him his grandmother had died. A private jet was arranged to fly him home but his allegedly dead grandmother then went public to declare herself alive and well. Ireland then claimed it was his paternal grandmother that had passed away but when she also turned up alive, explanations were needed. It emerged Ireland’s girlfriend had actually suffered a miscarriage but he had tried to conceal the truth.

Ireland made a full and frank apology for the grandmother fiasco, admitting that he and his girlfriend Jessica had panicked. “I know that it was a massive mistake on my part to tell the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) and Manchester City that my grandmothers had died and I deeply regret it. The miscarriage that Jessica suffered has caused both of us a lot of heartache and had caused us both to panic. It was wrong and I sincerely apologise, particularly as I caused a lot of problems for many people. I would like to apologise to my grandmothers and all my family for any distress I have caused them. Ireland manager Stephen Staunton, my Ireland team-mates, the backroom staff and the FAI also deserve my profound apologies.”

Ireland was also involved in a bizarre incident in November when he scored in a Premier League game against Sunderland with a superb volley. He celebrated the goal by dropping his shorts to reveal a pair of Superman underpants. He was warned about his conduct by the Football Association.

Ireland was recently revealed to be the owner of a Range Rover Sport 4.4 V8 HSE, which apparently is now the most popular choice of vehicle among Barclays English Premier League footballers. It boasts a top speed of 130mph and costs around GBP54,500.

© PA Sport, 2008, 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.