I remember watching Stephen Ireland and thinking he was something very special indeed. It was only on highlights reels and the odd Manchester City match I caught in full. But the Irish midfielder played with energy and undeniable talent; so much so that I thought he could be as good as he wanted to be.
He was 21 at the time, and a key player in the City midfield. And while it was just five seasons ago, when you consider Ireland’s career since then it feels like a lifetime has passed.
During the 2008-2009 campaign, Ireland was a vital cog in the Blues’ midfield. His 49 starts in all competitions spoke of someone they dared not leave out. And his 13 goals and 13 assists gave an emphatic reason as to why.
That was as good as it got for the player, as a series of controversies, managerial changes and transfers halted his progression.
But the news that new Stoke City manager Mark Hughes is keen to bring the player to the Britannia Stadium suggests we may not have seen the last of the best of the now-26-year-old.
It was after all under Hughes that Ireland produced that blistering form for City. And upon the Welshman’s departure that he swiftly turned from vital starter to perennial substitute.
That he has scored only five goals since that outstanding season speaks of how far he has fallen. But that is no reason to think he cannot rise again.
It may be clichéd to suggest it takes a certain manager to inspire some players to be the best version of themselves, but in the case of Hughes and Ireland that is exactly the feeling you get.
Hughes knows the player; he knows what he is capable of. And with Aston Villa confirming they are happy to part with Ireland’s services for significantly less than the £8million they paid for him, Stoke could be getting a bargain.
Fans that see a one-season wonder aren’t looking hard enough. Ireland has all the attributes to be great again (along with a few that are often his downfall). It is Hughes’s job to bring the former attributes to the fore and cast the latter ones aside. He has done it before and there is no reason he cannot again.
Perhaps I am just a sucker for a happy ending. But should Ireland make the move to the Britannia, I hope he can be inspired to be great again. I remember what happened the last time he was…and Stoke fans may be in for quite a treat.
Would Stoke City fans welcome Ireland to the club?
image: © alfonso jimenez