Monday 23 April 2018

No time like the present for master of reinvention Ireland

There is something endearing in Stephen Ireland's determination to live in the eternal now.

Being in the moment may have contributed somewhat to the small degree of personal chaos that has occasionally followed him around, but there are times when it has seemed like a price worth paying.

The ability to see round corners might have stopped him spinning the web of lies that resulted in him fly out of Slovakia in a killing spree of grandmothers, but it would also prevent him being the type of footballer that comes along once in a generation.

Ireland does what he has to do when he can and he is fearless and unconcerned about the consequences. So if he needs to get out of Slovakia, he does whatever it takes, writing off any number of close family members in the process. That doesn't matter, all that matters is changing things immediately.

At the height of his Thin White Duke period, David Bowie sealed and blacked-out all the windows in his California home in an attempt to live "in the eternal now". He was, of course, suffering from drug-induced psychosis, but he was also producing some pretty good records, a trade which anyone who saw him on the Glass Spider tour when he had recovered some mental equilibrium would consider one well worth making. Bowie's own feelings on the matter are probably irrelevant.

Ireland has no such problems and these days he appears to be a model citizen, or at least as model as any professional footballer hailing from Cork can be.

Like Bowie, he does seem to be a master of reinvention. Right now, it seems Mark Hughes is the problem where once Mark Hughes was the solution. Once Hughes was a "proper manager", the man who finally understood Ireland and Manchester City after a series of self-indulgent duds. Recently Ireland has changed his opinion, something we are getting used to.

Hughes is now to blame for Ireland's poor form, having played him out of position in his last six months at the club in order to accommodate everyone else who was arriving at Eastlands.

Roberto Mancini? Well, he's different. Ireland is now back playing in his proper position even if he has mainly started on the bench.

Ireland seems to have been blessed, if that is the right word, with the personality that makes people from Cork so uniquely loveable. There is a self-loathing, surpassed only by a loathing for others. From that agonising combination, great things spring.

Like Roy Keane, Ireland is driven by a desire to be different and it may be said he has succeeded to a greater degree than Keane. When Keane was Ireland's age, we were only dimly aware of the dark forces driving him. He had yet to go missing for a period of time likely to bring him to our attention, yet we instinctively knew he was different.

When Keane was Ireland's age, he went to the World Cup and eschewed the allowances made to the young players in the squad.

There were the three amigos, some of whom were older than Keane, and there was Keane who, if he had chosen to join their ranks, would have transformed the fun-loving three into the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Even then we sensed he was better off on his own. Even then we sensed the three amigos were better off on their own too.

Ireland won't be going to a World Cup at Keane's age for many reasons, only one of which is his premature retirement. His ability to live in the eternal now ensures that this retirement will always be a fluid thing, contingent on his mood at any minute. It is not inconceivable to imagine a scenario in which Ireland enters and comes out of retirement during the course of one game, or even during the course of one swift but ultimately unsuccessful exchange of passes with, say, Stephen Hunt.

Conducting negotiations with Giovanni Trapattoni cannot always help clarify his thinking, such as it is. There will be many post-graduate courses devoted to understanding the sub-text, and indeed the text, of Trapattoni's public statements and there is enough ambiguity in the case of Ireland for the matter never to be considered closed. Or open.

This ensures that every time he says something on the matter we are forced to respond, to look to Trapattoni for a response, to smile when one or both of them says "never say never" and to understand that we are doomed never to have a satisfactory answer while Ireland plays football. One day I expect him to announce that Trapattoni is in fact the greatest manager he has worked for or not worked for, depending on the circumstances.

Keane, of course, retired and unretired during the course of a long day or two spanning several different time zones. At that time, he was holed up in a hotel room in Saipan surrounded by idiots, with the essential balance between loathing and self-loathing toppling too far in one direction. So there is a precedent and it goes without saying it is a dangerous one.

Right now, Ireland needs to concentrate on playing for the greatest manager Manchester City has ever had, Roberto Mancini. Through some good fortune, Mancini may be forced to pick Ireland today when he might have preferred Patrick Vieira. Vieira was a baffling purchase and now we are being informed that a number of City players have problems with Mancini's methods. There may be several, there may be none, but there is always Craig Bellamy.

Mancini confirmed on Friday that he had a detailed conversation with Bellers last week which may or may not have become heated. This does not qualify as news.

Reportedly, some of the players are annoyed that Mancini is altering his training schedule at 24 hours' notice, forcing them into last-minute cancellations with body artists for both themselves and their embossed cars.

This City side thrive on chaos and confusion. They are at their most vulnerable when all is well so they will probably beat Liverpool today, inspired by Bellers and the returning Ireland, who is finally playing in his best position. He might change his mind about that too but now he is happy. And now is all that matters.

Sunday Independent

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