Thursday, 18 March 2010

Ireland's form

Stuart Brennan has a good article on Stephen Ireland's season, and while it makes some very good points, I have to disagree with this:
But he [Ireland] failed to hit the same kind of form which made him such a favourite last season, when he netted 13 goals.

And then manager Mark Hughes also felt Ireland needed some competition, and was actively seeking a creative midfielder when the axe fell on him in December - Scott Parker was a name being whispered loudly around the corridors at City.

But it was the appointment of Mancini which has truly cast a shadow over Ireland.

In the last two matches, at Sunderland and Chelsea, Mancini has adopted a safety-first approach to team selection, plonking the solid slab of Pablo Zabaleta, Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry in midfield, and opting for a couple of wide men to support Tevez. [Emphasis mine.]
I just can't agree that the arrival of Mancini has been the most problematic element of Ireland's season. In fact, one could argue that Mancini has been better to Ireland than Hughes was this season.

This is fundamentally a question of tactics. Mark Hughes' summer spending led to the junking of last season's 4-2-3-1 for a more cavalier 4-4-2, flirting with 4-2-4 on occasions. Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tévez went up front, with Craig Bellamy and Shaun Wright-Phillips either side. There was only room for two central midfielders, and Hughes started with Ireland and new signing Gareth Barry. While the results were good, it was clear that it was a dysfunctional midfield pairing, unable to boss games. Ireland just didn't have the discipline and nous to take on such a demanding role. Barry's form made him immune from dropping, and so Nigel de Jong was restored to the side.

Ireland did get his chances - in cup games, against Burnley at home, and so forth, but it is telling that his best game under Hughes this term was at Anfield, when the benching of Tévez allowed Ireland back in his preferred position at the peak of a midfield three, drifting behind a striker and two wingers. (He was also excellent in the same role for the last twenty minutes at White Hart Lane.) But as Tévez started to score, and excel dropping into that space in front of the back four where Ireland does his damage, there was no question of returning to the 2008/09 system.

It has only been under Mancini that Ireland has returned to that favoured attacking midfield role: the February home games against Stoke and Liverpool, the cup replay at the Brittania, as well as some of the January games, when he was shifted mid-game between the hole and the right of a midfield four. The point is that he's had as many opportunities to play attacking midfield in a 4-2-3-1 - his dream role, and, if we're honest, his only one - roughly as much under Mancini as under Hughes. You can see Ireland talking about exactly this here. He hasn't really done it under Mancini - he was very poor in those Stoke and Liverpool home games last month. He is coming back from injury, which would make the transition from one manager's methods to another's even harder. And he remains one of my favourite players. But I can't agree with a claim that Mancini has made things worse for him.


wizzballs said...

no doubting the talent, but he seems to intent on following in Elano's footsteps, up his own backside and out of the club.

so so sad that it looks to be going so so wrong for 'Superman'.

last season's brilliance began and ended with Steven, and his mentality. the moment of clarity he described post 8-1, the voluntary training, the sharpness of his reactions on the pitch which led him to win so many loose balls, led him to see the pattern and make the play so quickly, the effervescence and determination that shone through in everything he did..this season's performances may have raised some doubts that this ultra-focused, ultra-committed-to-the-moment attitude had survived... but more acutely it's been the interviews that have worried me.

Lauding Hughes' demise was bizarre, MH had given him everything he could hope for last year, practically built a team around his unorthodox 'inside-right/attacking-mid' style.... Is this someone who understands loyalty, who is in touch with the reality of the factors behind his success?

and as for playing out of position... sorry dear chap, that happens to every attacking midfielder going. you just have to make the most of it. everyone deals with change, new competition... you have the gifts necessary to rise to the challenge, to adapt, to contribute in all sorts of ways. again it's a question of mindset.

ultimately the most disheartening line was that he might have to look for another club, it was only hinted at, but the stories linking him with a move elsewhere are incessant.

does he realise Ferguson and Wenger will be watching his every move, his every utterance, to decide if he is really the all-conquering mental hero of last year, or just another one season wonder, who blames everyone else when his development stalls?


commitment costs. be realistic about everything that has happened so far. decide what it is that really burns inside you, what you need to do to satisfy it... it will mean compromise and sacrifice, it will mean you can't have it all. you can either commit to the best possible career for yourself at this club, or try the unknown, if you really believe that the possibilities of success and happiness are greater at another club. just get real, and be quick about it, because the current state of affairs is going to cost you dearly.

Blue Phoenix - Moving on up! said...

Hang on second...

I wouldn't write him off on the fact that he hasn't made many appearances and the untruths told in press articles.

It could well be a case of back to the drawing board for him with the new regime and he could still re-invent his potential as he is still very young.

Watch this space I'd say!

Rios Dos Santos said...

"...the sharpness of his reactions on the pitch which led him to win so many loose balls,.."

Yes Wizzballs I remember that like it was yesterday..
Ireland was awesome at times last year. Not only was his passing crisp I remember him tracking back and cutting out passes constantly. He was almost like a small De Jong who could also attack and score..

We really need a solid creative MF. I hope Ireland can be the one but he is just not clicking right now.

guleed said...

Wizzballs says it all really, spot on. Seems like Ireland had the right balance of graft and flair last season but it just seems that ever since losing out on that PFA young player of the year award he has become a shadow of his former self. Maybe he is feeling sorry for himself, all I know is that class is permanent and form is temporary. What he did last season not many players in the world could do so my money is on him sorting his head out this summer and coming back a monster for next season.

I really hope he can sort it before the season is up so he can give us that final surge into the champions league that we need.

I don't know about you but I'm ready for the sequel, "Superman Returns"

Blue Moon said...

Joining the amen chorus here -- wizzballs is correct. The moment that summed it all up for me this year was Liverpool when he was played in through on goal and pirouetted AWAY from goal rather than take the responsibility to shoot and score. It's like Dr. Evil stole his mojo...

JPB said...

I agree Blue Moon - there was a collective intake of breath at that moment, as City fans everywhere realised that this was not the Stephen Ireland we revelled in last year. Very telling.