Stephen Ireland: “I was the best player on the pitch by a country mile. Messi was playing.”

The midfielder is plotting a return to football.

Stephen Ireland is 33 and has not played professionally since 2018. But the former Manchester City and Stoke City midfielder hopes to one day earn another professional contract and even play for the Republic of Ireland again.

His last contract was with Bolton Wanderers two years ago.

Stephen Ireland: Bruno Fernandes had a poster of me.

The midfielder announced his intentions in a wide-ranging interview where he reflected on his career to date.

In the interview with Daniel Taylor, Ireland said that Manchester United’s Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes told him that he had posters of him on his wall as a child.

“He told me that, as a kid, he had a poster of me,” Ireland told The Athletic.

“He said that when he played Football Manager he always signed me. I was like, ‘You had me on a poster? And, seriously, you sign me for Football Manager?’ I mean, how weird is that?”

Stephen Ireland: Alex Ferguson urged the Man United players to man-mark me.

According to Ireland, former Man United players told him that Alex Ferguson would always pinpoint the Cork-native as a threat to his team. Ferguson is said to have designated a player to man-mark the midfielder.

“What I like is when I hear feedback from the United guys and they say, ‘Every time we played City and we had team meetings, he (Sir Alex Ferguson) would only talk about you’.

“They say Ferguson used to tell them I was the only one to worry about. It was, ‘Man-mark Ireland, stop Ireland — wherever he goes, follow him’. I’d have Darren Fletcher following me the whole match.”

Stephen Ireland: I was the best player on the pitch in a match against Barcelona & Messi.

Ireland also claims that he was the “best player on the pitch by a country mile” when Manchester City played Barcelona in a pre-season friendly in 2009.

“We played against Barcelona in pre-season and I was the best player on the pitch by a country mile. Messi was playing. He went on one of his mad runs and I just thought, ‘I have to tackle him’. I did this massive hook tackle on him. It was an amazing tackle,” Ireland said.

“There were four or five times when I read his passes and intercepted them. I went round him. I gave him the eyes and went a different way. It was cool, really cool, to be out there with him. On occasions like that, you’re more alert, you try harder. You run quicker, you see more. I’m built for that.”

Stephen Ireland: Barcelona’s president praised me.

According to Ireland, some of his Man City teammates tipped him to sign for the Catalan giants. He also said that, ahead of the game against the then-Champions League-holders, the Barcelona president Joan Laporta singled him out for praise.

“The day before the game, we had a training session and, as we were coming up the tunnel, Barcelona’s president (Joan Laporta) was there. All the players were like, ‘That’s him!’. He kinda pushed everyone to the side, grabbed me and gave me a massive bear hug.

“He started telling everyone, ‘Hey, this guy is the man, this guy’s number one. This guy’s Superman!’.”

Stephen Ireland: I rejected several chances to join top six clubs.

Ireland said he turned down transfers to Man United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur out of “loyalty” to Mark Hughes, his manager at Man City at the time, who was “constantly begging” him to stay with the club.

The former Aston Villa midfielder played for four clubs – Manchester City, Villa, Newcastle United on loan and Stoke City – in a Premier League career which lasted 13 years. In six appearances for the Republic of Ireland, he scored four goals.

Ireland was named Manchester City’s player of the year in the 2008/09 season but fell out of favour under Roberto Mancini.

You can read the interview here.

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Originally published on June 24, 2020.

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