Stephen Ireland: Could He Be the Man for Manchester United's Midfield?

Brendan FitzgeraldContributor IIJuly 24, 2011

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 26:  Stephen Ireland of Aston Villa shows his frustrations during the UEFA Europa League  Play Off, second leg match between Aston Villa and SK Rapid Vienna at Villa Park on August 26, 2010 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Hear me out here, because I promise this isn't as crazy as it sounds.

Over the 2008-2009 season, Stephen Ireland established himself as one of the Premier League's top attacking midfielders. The quality and consistency of his performances meant he was named Manchester City's Player of the Year and shortlisted for PFA Young Player of the Year. Make no mistake, Ireland was nothing short of a revelation.

Since then, however, it's all gone wrong for Ireland. The arrival of Mancini at Eastlands meant a City team more focused on strength and organization than attacking flair. Ireland's playmaking talent was sacrificed in favor of the hard tackling and physicality of Nigel de Jong and Vincent Kompany, and he finished the season appearing surplus to requirements in the blue half of Manchester.

Disillusioned, Ireland ended up in Aston Villa, where he lost his place in the team as his work ethic was called into question. He was even loaned out to Newcastle, where he failed to make an impact. As of now, it looks like his career at the top of the English game is all but over.

So, why should Manchester United be interested in him?

I think there's reason to believe that Stephen Ireland could rediscover his form of two years ago if given the chance at United. The biggest question hanging over Ireland is not his talent but his head. He is prone to eccentric and baffling behavior, which seems to distract him from his game.

Indeed, Ireland's stellar season for City coincided with a time when Ireland finally appeared to be getting his lifestyle in order. He worked with a martial arts instructor to improve his focus and combined this with a model work ethic on the training ground to perform to his true potential.

Ireland never wanted to play for Aston Villa. His treatment at the hands of the club he was with since boyhood left him bitter and disillusioned. For any another player this might not be a major problem, but Stephen Ireland is not any other player. If his head isn't in the right place, he cannot perform on the pitch. It's as simple as that.

Ireland is still only 24, and if there's any club where Ireland can rediscover his form it's Manchester United. Alex Ferguson has a history of getting the best out of players with volatile personalities—see Eric Cantona and Wayne Rooney—and Ireland has shown before that if he is happy at a club, he can produce truly outstanding performances.

His purchase would be a gamble, but it would be a low cost gamble. A move for him would be inexpensive, and if he plays with anything approaching his form of two years ago it would be a bargain.

Look at it this way: If Ferguson can spend £7.4 million on Bébé, why not risk the same or less on a player who has proven he can perform at the very highest level in a position United are lacking?