Sport Soccer

Friday 27 April 2018

'I don't want to make even more enemies'

Ireland goes on charm offensive in damage limitation exercise, writes Dion Fanning

Perhaps Stephen Ireland thought he would alter some misconceptions in his interview with So Foot magazine which has so spectacularly back-fired, particularly in his heartland of Cork.

The conversation with the French magazine was, he told Newstalk's Ger Gilroy in as fascinating an interview as this complicated footballer has provided, supposed to be "a general talk about what's my favourite colour". And we all had naively assumed it was pink.

Ireland may have been ready to answer question in the traditional Shoot Q&A fashion -- Likes: Luther Vandross, Scampi and Chips. Dislikes: Smoking, hooligans, people who knock the game -- but instead he was forced on the defensive, issuing a plaintive cry that: "it's not fair."

Ireland's claim that "the words sound a lot harsher than I meant" does not suggest the French magazine created a work of fiction.

Instead we got to glimpse again the mind of Ireland, his articulacy, his deep sensitivity and his entanglement with his country, which is as ambivalent and tortured as many of the great exiles who went before him.

In his attempt to make amends and demonstrate his love for his country, Ireland went so far as to suggest that once he got a run of games with a club he would look at it "down the line". As a result, there may once again be as much confusion about his international intentions as there seems to be about nearly every other aspect of Ireland's career.

There was a sense of his sensitivity and his inability to keep things in proportion when he told Gilroy that the interview with So Foot might change things. "The way I feel right now over this interview I do feel I'd love to go back to Ireland and play, just to let everyone see that this interview was a complete and utter stitch-up. I'm not sure if that would even fix it." Maybe not, but it probably beats a strongly worded letter to the press ombudsman.

His sensitivity again demonstrates that he has never really left Ireland or Cork, where they have reacted badly to his suggestion, however embellished, that he would rather live in LA or, presumably the worst-case scenario, shoot himself than return to the city. He told Gilroy about the Cork tattoo -- "I love Cork, I've Cork tattooed on my body" -- indisputable evidence of his irremovable love for the place but his remarks about the Irish economy to So Foot -- "Ireland is reaping what it sowed" -- suggest that, despite some allegations, Ireland's perceptiveness is not in question. Although it is harder to make that case when he goes on to repeat that he would have been more likely to play for Ireland if Steve Staunton had stayed.

Giovanni Trapattoni has joined the list of bogeymen. "When I met him I didn't really get a good vibe," he said on Newstalk. "I think he felt he had to have the meeting for the sake of it. I don't think he'd ever seen me play." This would not put Ireland in an exclusive club.

Injury means that this season looks likely to be written off.

He is, of course, enthusiastic about his latest new manager Alan Pardew, who is "a really good guy". Ireland's inability to hide how he feels means he will always be hostage to his latest emotion. So again, perhaps out of remorse, he hints at an Ireland return.

"I would never say never in football. Football's a crazy game. Regarding the World Cup, I'd love if Ireland won the World Cup."

At that stage, he was trying to kill us with kindness. The man who once said he hated football had provided another example of his persecution complex.

In Ireland, they talk about him more, therefore they persecute him more. In England, understandably, they are less concerned with the words of an Aston Villa reserve.

"I'm trying to make up for it, I'm trying to let people see I'm hard-done-by. It might jeopardise future plans." Although the people of LA are probably still ready to welcome him.

"I don't want to make more enemies than I already have," he told Gilroy. "People have an opinion of me in Ireland of what's happened before in the past and I won't come back or whatever or this car or whatever they're on about.

"I don't want to add to that. I don't want people to say: 'Yeah he absolutely is an idiot completely'."

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