The Graduates: No.17 Stephen Ireland
- Thu 13 Oct 2011, 11:38AM
- Posted by David Clayton
Stephen Ireland earned the nickname ‘Superman’ for his dazzling and sometimes heroic displays for the Blues during a rollercoaster career with City.
Born in County Cork, Ireland, the attacking midfielder joined City in 2001 after being spotted playing for junior team Cobh Ramblers at the age of 14.
A gifted footballer, Ireland soon made an impression at Platt Lane and was the creative brains of the Academy team coached by Alex Gibson for several years before being fast-tracked to the senior team in 2005.
Ireland made his debut on 18 September against Bolton Wanderers coming on as a substitute in the 81st minute and a fortnight later he made his first start against Everton, winning man-of-the-match honours, no less.
On Boxing Day 2006 he scored his first Premier League goal for the Blues with a 20-yard volley against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane – it was also enough to earn the Blues three vital points.
After starting the 2007/08 campaign well Ireland scored another sumptuous volley, this time against Sunderland in a 1-0 win. However his celebration caused controversy, dropping his shorts to reveal a pair of briefs with the Superman logo!
Ireland went from strength to strength and during the 2008/09 campaign he was at his imperious best, inspiring the Blues with a mixture of silky skills, exquisite vision and brilliant goals.
It was no surprise, then, that the 22-year-old was voted City’s Player of the Year by a country mile. Accordingly, Ireland earned himself a new five- year contract with City and life could not have been sweeter.
But somewhere along the lines, Ireland lost his spark and drive - and his first-team place as Mark Hughes moved on and Roberto Mancini took over.
Ireland was no longer guaranteed a starting berth under the new regime and he seemed unable to fight his way back into the manager’s plans.
As a result, when the Blues purchased James Milner in 2010, Ireland went in the other direction in a part exchange deal, but he has so far failed to recapture anywhere near the kind of form with Villa, spending time on loan with Newcastle where he didn’t fare much better.
At present, his career seems to be drifting and is some way short of where it should be, though he has plenty of time to re-discover the sort of form that, to City fans, simply made him Superman.