There was a time where Stephen Ireland was considered to be one of the brightest young prospects in the Premier League.
An academy graduate at Manchester City, the creative midfielder made his debut for the club as a teenager in 2005 against Doncaster Rovers and was very impressive during his first ever Premier League season giving his lack of experience of senior football.
Ireland’s scored his first ever goal a year later as he fired home the winner against Sheffield United before adding to his tally with two further strikes to cap off a fine 2006/07 campaign. After continuing his development as a player at the Etihad stadium, the Republic of Ireland international produced the best performances of his career to date in a superb ninth months spell for City.
Scoring thirteen goals in the 2008/09 season as well as proving nine assists for his team-mates in all competitions, Ireland must have thought that he was about to become a star for the Citizens for many years to come. However, this was not to be the case as he lost his place in the side following the arrival of Italian boss Roberto Mancini, forcing him to consider his future elsewhere.
In August 2010, Ireland moved to Aston Villa in a deal reported to be worth £8m (via the Guardian), which proved to be disastrous for the Midlands-based club. After just 12 games for the club, then-manager Gerard Houllier decided to send him out on loan to Newcastle United where the midfielder also failed to impress.
Nevertheless, Ireland was given two further seasons to impress at Villa yet he ultimately failed to do so, scoring just once for the club in 45 appearances since returning from the Magpies. Once considered to be a bright young talent, by the age of 27 he was already on thin ice in terms of remaining a Premier League player.
A move away from Villa Park to Stoke City to rejoin former boss Mark Hughes failed to result in Ireland recapturing anywhere near the level of performance that he had previously demonstrated at City and by 2017 he had reached rock bottom after missing the entire season due to injury.
Sporadic appearances during the Potters’ 2017/18 campaign resulted in him leaving the club having failed to score a single goal in his four-year stint. Ireland joined Championship side Bolton Wanderers last October but was released just two months later without making an appearance for the Trotters, completing a spectacular fall from grace.
Now without a club, the 32-year-old’s future in football is uncertain as any glimmers of talent that he once illustrated at City have almost certainly disappeared due to his dreadful spells his dismal at Villa, Stoke and Bolton.
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