With Roberto Mancini’s summer Sheikh-up in full swing, it is easy for those who remain at the club to get lost in the crowd of new faces. For Stephen Ireland, the summer upheaval has left his Manchester City career teetering in the balance as he now finds himself surplus to requirements at the City of Manchester stadium.
Ireland’s sudden fall from favour has come as something of a surprise. It was only two seasons ago that Ireland’s scintillating displays earned him Player of the Year honours under previous City boss Mark Hughes. Ireland’s successes at City have stemmed from him being given a free role within a more traditional 4-4-2 where he drifted fluidly between midfield and attack to devastating effect.
However, under Mancini it has been Carlos Tevez who has been given a free role. From an ostensible wide position, Tevez has wreaked havoc on opponents using his pace, intelligence and movement to top the scoring charts for City last season.
The arrivals of Yaya Touré and David Silva indicate Mancini will most probably opt for a 4-3-3 diamond formation for the upcoming season, with Touré, Barry and De Jong in midfield along with an attack of Silva, Tevez and Adebayor. Within this diamond system, there doesn’t seem to be a place for a player like Stephen Ireland.
Another possible reason for Ireland’s exclusion from Mancini’s plans is that he is not glamorous enough to warrant a place in City’s increasingly star-studded line-up. Put simply, Ireland’s name does not carry the same sort of recogition that David Silva or Yaya Touré does. His presence in the first-team would therefore be detrimental for City’s plan of establishing themselves as a destination for top talent from around the globe if a perceived “lesser name” can be seen lining up in Manchester blue.
The influx of big-money signings to Eastlands has also had a negative effect on the former academy players that still remain at the club. Like Ireland, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Micah Richards, Nedum Onuoha and Michael Johnson have all been products of Manchester City’s youth academy. All these players have previously been touted as players with huge promise, only to now find themselves on the fringes of the first team squad. The likely scenario is that most of the players here will find themselves looking at places other than Eastlands if they wish to play regular first-team football.
While at City, Ireland has been dogged by problems on and off the field which has maybe caused Mancini to think whether Ireland is worth all the hassle for the club and its management. Ireland has been plagued by injury throughout his career and there are concerns over his character following his controversial self-imposed exile from the Irish national team.
Mancini has recently told Ireland that his future at the club is far from decided and that he has an opportunity to prove himself worthy of a first-team place in next season’s 25 man squad: “Yes of course he [Ireland] could still have a future. I don’t know how it’s possible for him to think otherwise. It is up to him to prove himself to me”. (Daily Mail)
Should Man City let Ireland go, they would be surrendering a highly talented player. I’m sure many Premier League teams will be closely monitoring the goings-on at Eastlands with an eye to possibly bagging a potential bargain on a gifted but often misunderstood player.