Stephen Ireland: What a Waste.

21 May

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When the Republic of Ireland’s not so new Manager Martin O’Neill revealed at yesterday’s Press Conference ahead of the Summer friendly matches that he had rang Stephen Ireland to speak about his (Ireland’s) international future but that Ireland hadn’t returned O’Neill’s calls, that statement surely signalled the end of the longest-running and arguably most controversial Irish international footballing story since Roy Keane’s Saipan meltdown in 2002.

 

O’Neill rightly said that he is not in the business of chasing players to turn up and play for their country. Contrast Stephen Ireland’s attitude to O’Neill and playing for Ireland with that of the uncapped goalkeeper Robbie Elliot.  Elliot yesterday revealed that he had withdrawn from his own Stag Party in Las Vegas as O’Neill had included him in the squad for these games and you get an idea of what international football should mean to any footballer worth his salt.

 

What an awful waste of an international career Stephen Ireland’s has been. Six full caps, four goals, between 2006 and 2007.  Some strike rate for a midfield player.  He had the honour of being the scorer of the first Association Football goal scored at GAA Headquarters Croke Park when Ireland beat Wales 1-0 in a Euro 2008 qualifier.  His other goals were the opener in the away Euro 2008 qualifiers in Cyprus (lost 2-5 in a horror show), San Marino (an injury time winner (2-1) in another horror show under Staunton) and another first goalscorer performance in the 2-2 draw with Slovakia in September 2007 in Bratislava when all this controversy began.   Ireland hasn’t worn the green shirt since that fateful night.

 

For those of you not familiar with what happened almost seven years ago, a breaking story emerged that Ireland would not be accompanying the squad after the Slovakia game to Prague for the second of a double-header qualifier assignment against Czech Republic. Ireland was going back to Manchester as his grandmother had passed away and the FAI commandeered a private jet to get him home.

 

It soon emerged that his grandmother hadn’t died as she went on Irish radio to confirm that fact. Ireland then released a statement that it was in fact his other grandmother who had passed.  This proved also false as the second grandmother confirmed her existence.  What tragically emerged was that Ireland’s partner had suffered a miscarriage and that rather than reveal that awful news, he panicked and made up the death of a grandmother to protect his grieving partner and himself.  Understandable in the circumstances and having suffered a similar experience myself, coping with such a loss is tough and very painful.

 

Ireland’s behaviour towards the international team in the intervening 6 years and 8 months has been anything but understandable and completely disgraceful and he had form as an underage international as well. As a member of an Under 18 squad, Manager Brian Kerr left him out of a match and the team was beaten 4-0.  Ireland expected to play in the very next game, but when Kerr again omitted him, Ireland requested he be let return to his club, to which Kerr promised he would never select him again while Kerr was in charge.

 

When Steve Staunton was dismissed as senior Irish boss at the end of 2007, Don Givens was given the caretaker role for the last game of the campaign against Wales. Ireland was omitted as Givens rightly said he would only choose players who wanted to come and play, he wouldn’t be actively pursuing those who didn’t.  It was previously reported that when Ireland had been in the squad, he was “bullied” and “taunted” over his hair transplant and that he felt uncomfortable in such an environment and that this contributed to his decision not to return to the fold.  Evidence or details of the alleged bullying have never been made public.  It is also worth noting that following the tragic miscarriage, Ireland’s absence from the Man City team totalled zero games.

 

Giovanni Trapattoni was appointed as Ireland manager in 2008 and was next to have to bear the supposed desire of Ireland to return to play. Trapattoni’s assistant Liam Brady revealed he had spoken to Ireland but that Ireland stated he wasn’t “ready” to return to the fold.  Brady stated it was agreed that Ireland would contact the new regime when he deemed himself “ready” (whatever that meant).  It was later reported that Trapattoni went to meet Ireland following more stories (not from Ireland himself, but via his father) that he wanted to end his international exile.  Ireland’s version is that Trapattoni was aloof and arrogant and spent much of the meeting on his phone and that Ireland felt again, unloved and unwanted.  Trapattoni didn’t include Ireland any of his panels in his 5 year reign.  Ireland’s wife even appeared on an RTE Television chat show to suggest her husband was considering coming back.  Why the man himself couldn’t do so was a mystery, he never publicly stated his desire to play for his country again and had previously stated he didn’t miss the international arena.

 

Once again when a change of Irish management occurred after Trapattoni’s reign ended, the latest Manager, Martin O’Neil, was naturally asked about Ireland. O’Neill replied that contact would need to be made and the international door would always be open for players who wanted to play.  Ireland commented last year, “I think I would like to get together and have a chat and try to put everything on the table, put across ideas and just have a good general chat”.

 

Nothing about his desire to return, or his readiness to return.   What was there to “chat” about?  What “ideas”?  The answer should’ve been simple.  I’m ready to return and I want to play and help Ireland qualify for Euro 2016. But no, he wanted to merely have a chat!  Yet still Irish fans wanted to see him back in the squad!  A poll in September 2013 on the Irish fan website “You Boys in Green” asked who wanted him recalled.  As at 21st May 2014, 112 said they wanted him back, 105 in the negative, so slightly more than 50% still deem him important to the international team, despite his last appearance being in September 2007!

 

Ireland’s club career has stagnated since Man City fans voted him their Player of the Year in 2009. Roberto Mancini referred to him as a “fantastic” player but tellingly added that if “he can change his head, I think he can start to play like last season (2008/9) again”. Despite Ireland having signed a contract to 2014, he was transferred by Mancini at the start of the 2010/11 season to Aston Villa. By October of that year, Villa manager Gerard Houllier had dropped Ireland stating Ireland needed to “work harder” at his game and in December, Houllier, after meeting with Ireland’s representatives, stated he could leave Villa. On the final day of the January 2011 transfer window, Ireland joined Newcastle on loan, however injury and an off the field incident put paid to the remainder of the 2010/11 season as Ireland played only 49 minutes in over three months of the remaining season and he returned to Villa stating he would fight for his place in the 2011/12 season.

 

He returned to decent form for that season and was voted Villa fans’ Player of the Year for 2012, but injury and loss of form the following season again affected him and he didn’t appear in the first team from the end of January 2013. He rejoined his former Man City manager Mark Hughes at Stoke City in September 2013, initially on loan but moved permanently in January 2014. His form has been patchy at best and even he realised that his club form needed to be consistent and deserving of a recall to the international arena.

 

It now is clear (20th May 2014) that he doesn’t want a recall to the international arena.  Martin O’Neill revealed he had phoned Ireland on more than one occasion, but Ireland decided the international Manager didn’t deserve the courtesy of a call back.  O’Neill further stated his MO regarding international players is that he won’t be chasing them or begging them to play and that is 100% the correct stance to take.

 

Ireland will be 28 years of age when the Euro 2016 qualifiers begin in September. He will have been almost seven years out of the international reckoning.  I think it’s safe to say O’Neill will not be including him for the Euro 2016 campaign, meaning Ireland will be 30 when the next campaign begins for World Cup 2018, with or without Martin O’Neill in charge.  I think it’s now also safe to say Stephen Ireland’s international career is over.  After six games and four goals.  What a waste.

 

By Phelim Warren

@freewheeler12

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