Stephen Ireland was once the best player on an expensively assembled Mark Hughes managed side. The year was 2009 and Manchester City had just been subject to a takeover from the Royal Family of Abu Dhabi. At the time, Stephen Ireland was the best player on the Blues team that included Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Robinho and Daniel Strurridge. He helped lead the club to the quarter-final round of the UEFA Cup where City was eliminated in heartbreaking fashion by Hamburg. Ireland was rewarded with the team’s Player of the Year award for 2008-09.
At the peak of his power, the Blues brass started spending big money and eventually Ireland saw himself reduced to a reserve role. Unfortunately for Ireland, Hughes was sacked in December 2009. Then came Roberto Mancini and virtually no playing time. Even youth team members got as many games as Ireland towards the end of the 2009-10 season. In the summer of 2010 with the new Blues manager determined to beat out other English sides for the services of James Milner, Ireland was unceremoniously thrown in as a makeweight to increase City’s offer to Aston Villa. The bid was accepted by the West Midlands club and Milner headed to Manchester City while Ireland went the other way.
Ireland’s performances with Villa were astonishingly inconsistent at first and then flat out awful. He was even sent out on loan to Newcastle where like so many before him he failed to make an impression. Villans boss Paul Lambert took such a dislike to Ireland that efforts were made as soon as last season ended for any team to take him and Barry Bannan. Both were players the manager reportedly felt had become locker room cancers with a team that was generally young and impressionable.
Enter Mark Hughes, getting yet another lease on life as manager at Stoke. Ireland is for the first time in five seasons showing genuine and consistent spark in his game. He is not sulking on the pitch as he so often did at Villa and Newcastle, and he seems to be enjoying his football. For this credit must go to Mark Hughes a manager who has gotten the best out of Ireland on two occasions at different clubs, five years apart.
Ireland acknowledged Hughes influence when moving to Stoke on loan this past summer.
“I had a great relationship with Mark at Manchester City and I was desperate to work with him and his staff again.