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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers News » Can Bolton get the best out of ex-Man City and Aston Villa star?

Can Bolton get the best out of ex-Man City and Aston Villa star?

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Stephen Ireland has never been far away from the headlines in more than a decade spent amid the dazzling glare of top level football.

Fantastical stories of his actions on and off the pitch, though some surely apocryphal, are readily recounted by fans of each of the four top flight clubs he has represented.

Superman pants, shisha pipes and pimped-up cars have given the tabloids plenty of ammunition, and arguably masked the journey of a talented player who never quite lived up to his full potential.

Even his international career – incredibly limited to just six caps for the Republic of Ireland – remains mysteriously suspended in limbo following a fall-out with the FAI more than 11 years ago, when the midfielder was still a naïve youngster.

Now 32, Ireland arrives at Wanderers, his first club outside the Premier League since moving from Cobh Ramblers as a 15-year-old. He is no longer the enfant terrible, nor necessarily a star name. The Irish playmaker is back at square one, looking to prove himself all over again.

Ireland has plenty to prove to those concerned a horrific double leg break sustained at Stoke in a training ground challenge in May 2016 has limited what he can now do on a football pitch.

Wanderers fans will recall a similar injury sustained by Chung-Yong Lee, who battled back to play at a World Cup finals and earn a move to Crystal Palace, albeit with a touch more youth on his side.

Ireland has played competitively since the injury but the muscular problems associated with such a long spell on the side-lines left him unable to get enough game-time to earn a new deal with the Potters when they were relegated to the Championship.

That same sort of issue reared its head again when he came on trial at Bolton in the summer. A calf problem forced him out of a behind-closed-doors friendly against Morecambe, and presented a chance for another trialist, Gary O’Neil, to earn a contract.

No player in the whole Wanderers squad – including O’Neil – can match Ireland’s 245 top tier appearances but fans’ reaction to his arrival on a short term deal at the University of Bolton Stadium on Tuesday night was one of cautious optimism.

If Phil Parkinson can get his new signing to peak fitness there is hope he could add the measure of forward momentum his midfield has lacked. Ireland’s natural game is all about stamina and goals, making him a good fit in an ideal world.

For all the tales of Ireland’s churlish youth, there is also evidence to suggest he takes his training incredibly seriously. A pre-season running the hills of Glossop and learning mixed martial arts at Manchester City led to probably his most productive season in 2009/10 under Mark Hughes.

And it will be that kind of commitment which Parkinson and Wanderers will need if Ireland is to avoid joining the group of temporary fixes which have failed to pay off in recent seasons, such as Chinedu Obasi and Jan Kirchhoff.

Even in the brief statement made by Parkinson which accompanied the announcement of his arrival there was a tone of caution, making it perfectly clear the midfielder still had plenty of work to do before he was at the same level as the rest of his group.

Ireland found a mentor at City and Stoke in Hughes, whose footballing principles are similar to that of the Bolton boss. Parkinson’s man management has also been excellent in his two-and-a-half years, so bringing aboard a reputedly complex individual will not be a concern.

It is fairly easy to trawl the internet and pick up negative comments and press associated with Ireland down the years but closer examination, especially during his rehabilitation at Stoke, suggests a player who is hell bent on returning to his former glory.

If Wanderers have signed that Stephen Ireland, perhaps we can expect to see some good news stories from here on in?


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