Stephen Ireland is viewed by many as one of Ireland’s most gifted yet unfulfilled footballers.
Despite playing alongside players such as Carlos Tevez, Patrick Viera and Vincent Kompany, Ireland only ever made six international appearances for the Boys in Green.
Various off-field issues have created the narrative that the midfielder is somewhat difficult to work with. However, in a wide-ranging interview with The Athletic, the former Manchester City midfield claims he was a manager’s dream to work with.
Throughout the interview, Ireland was very complimentary towards a host of managers including Mark Hughes, Sven-Goran Eriksson, who helped him increase his wage from just £85 a week, and Alex McLeish, who apparently recommended the player to Sir Alex Ferguson.
However, there were two managers in particular who Ireland singled out for their poor treatment of him while under their tutelage – Roberto Mancini and Gerard Houllier.
The first was Mancini. Ireland feels his face didn’t fit in at City once the Italian arrived and was soon told in a humiliating manner that he would need to look for a new club. The Cork native recalls that he thought he won the manager over before receiving the news he dreaded the most ahead of his final game for the club.
“So it came to the very last game of pre-season and I sat down with him and he pulled David Platt in to translate a little bit, and I said: ‘I know there’s a bit of animosity there but I feel like we’ve pushed on. I really wanted to have a strong season under you.’ And he just starts laughing. Hysterically laughing, and I’m like, ‘Fuck, what did I say?’
“I look at David Platt and he’s looking at me. He (Mancini) said: ‘Listen, you’re not getting registered in the Premier League this year at Man City, so if you don’t leave before the season starts you’ll play with the kids for a season.”
Ireland said this left him in tears and he did not want to play the game. Mancini made him and named him captain. The former City boss wasn’t the only one that Ireland didn’t exactly see eye to eye with. Former Liverpool and Aston Villa boss Houllier also came under fire.
Ireland recounts a tale of how he signed for Aston Villa under Martin O’Neill only for the former Ireland manager to leave the club later that same day. Houllier was brought in as a replacement and the experience left a sour taste in the player’s mouth.
“I’ve played for a few really horrendous managers. I thought one, in particular, was Gerard Houllier. It baffles me how that guy has ever got a football job, and it scares me. It makes me think that I could easily be a manager if he’s doing it, my gardener could easily be a manager if he’s got a job because I thought he was that bad.
“I didn’t think he had a clue about football. Everybody is training like maniacs to get in the team on Saturday and I remember he was four football fields away looking at the flowers and walking around with his hands behind his back. How is he picking the team on a Saturday? It’s frightening, frightening. That’s what killed me.”
You can read the full piece here on The Athletic.