The Curious Case of Stephen Ireland

Tony MoganCorrespondent ISeptember 7, 2009

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 08: Stephen Ireland of Manchester City during the pre season friendly match between Manchester City and Celtic at the City of Manchester Stadium on August 8, 2009 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

At every level, it’s a refreshing reminder of all that is wonderful about sport that one of the greatest honours one can experience is to represent their country.

Football is no different. From kids enjoying a kick-about in the street to professionals waiting for the chance to walk onto the pitch, clad in their nation’s colours for the first time; it is irrefutably one of the greatest feats anyone with hope of progressing in the game can have.

However, the modern game is not always a pretty one. Relentless financial fixation, mercenary players switching club allegiances at the drop of hat, along with what sometimes seems like an endless list of disheartening issues constantly dominate the back pages today.

However, the dream of playing for one’s international team, one that you’d assume every player possesses is a quaint reminder of the simple joys in football.

Considering this, it’s difficult to fathom why a young player, not to mention an extremely talented one, would repeatedly turn down the calls of their country’s manager.

Step forward the ironically named, Stephen Ireland.

Despite his eccentric/borderline insane behaviour we have seen in the past, Ireland continues to thrive in the Premier League. Ignoring the grotesque SUV complete with luminous pink wheels, and the Superman boxers Sunderland fans must cheerily remember, we are talking about a player who has survived Manchester City’s financial assault of the transfer market, and come out looking better than ever.

So why isn’t Ireland, easily one of the most technically accomplished men eligible for Giovanni Trapattoni's squad playing in vital World Cup qualifiers?

Trapattoni is doing a wonderful job with what is honestly, an average Irish squad. Second only to the reigning world champions Italy and with qualification well and truly in their own hands, things are certainly looking better than they did under Steve Staunton’s best forgotten reign 18 months ago.

However, despite the positive results, there are underlying worries. Take this weekend’s game away to Cyprus for example. When your midfield partnership of Glen Whelan and Keith Andrews fails to impose themselves against the Cypriots, it raises concerns.

The one dimensional nature of the combination, which is often completely devoid of creativity, frequently disappears completely, not something that inspires fans with the world’s biggest competition just around the corner.

The other options? Darron Gibson of Manchester United has shown glimpses of brilliance on the rare occasions when he has had the chance at club level, but you can understand Trapattoni’s unwillingness to throw on a player who is (on occasion) nowhere near the starting eleven at United.

The two Reid’s, Andy and Stephen, offer hope, but considering Stephen’s crushing injuries over the past three years and Andy’s ever-expanding waist line, it's faint hope at best.

With South Africa 2010 approaching, Ireland are in need of a composed midfielder, capable of calmly picking out a pass and dictating the flow of the game, without resorting to needless long balls as soon as the slightest hint of pressure hits, something regular viewers will have become sadly accustomed to.

Stephen Ireland, based on his Premiership exploits, is capable of filling the role. But despite the squad’s desperation for a player of his quality, would he be welcomed back in?

After dropping out of the Ireland squad for an important qualifier against the Czech Republic in 2008 to supposedly bury a gaggle of grannies, only for it to later emerge that his real reasons were to be with his girlfriend who had recently suffered a miscarriage, eyebrows were certainly raised.

But his decision not to return to the squad amidst rumours that he’d suffered some stick at the hands of his team mates in regard to his alleged hair transplant raised them even further and severely questioned his loyalty to the national cause.

Ever since then, he has ignored the calls of Giovanni Trapattoni, one of the most respected managers in the game, describing it as, "the best decision I ever made,” in the process.

In my eyes, the eccentric, but still forgivable behaviour displayed during Grannygate has transcended into downright disloyalty, something no fan wants to see in the national squad.

At the minute, it appears that Ireland isn’t donning the green jersey for one reason. He doesn’t care. A player possessing his exhilarating ability could quite easily find a place in the squad.

But when the player in question doesn’t appear to have the devotion and drive required to represent their country at the very highest level, then is his presence really required?