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Time on Ireland's side but Big Apple offers new temptations


Ireland has always had a problem demonstrating commitment because of the great complexities being debated in his butterfly mind

Ireland has always had a problem demonstrating commitment because of the great complexities being debated in his butterfly mind

Ireland has always had a problem demonstrating commitment because of the great complexities being debated in his butterfly mind

Stephen Ireland is close to completing a move to the New York Red Bulls that would see him head to MLS next month.

The rumours that have circulated around New York for a few months were confirmed by Michael Ballack's agent last week when he expressed his disappointment that his player was being overlooked in favour of a "no-name" player.

Sources close to the deal have confirmed that the club hope to get the player before MLS's transfer window closes next month or else they will wait for the summer.

Ireland's club manager Alex McLeish wondered where the speculation was coming from last week but with talk of the player's dissatisfaction when he was left out of the team during Robbie Keane's loan spell, he may decide that satisfaction is to be found elsewhere again.

Ireland is more than the no-name player. He is a player with talent and with a personality. His name is, however, synonymous with waywardness and eccentricity. If he goes to New York, the problem won't be that the fans have never heard of him, it will be what they know him for.

It's easy to see why MLS appeals to him or, more specifically, why life in New York appeals to him but the fans of the Red Bulls will need to be persuaded of Ireland's intentions.

"The concern is obviously how much of a headcase is he?" Joe Tiernan, a New Yorker and Red Bulls fan said last week.

When Robbie Keane joined LA Galaxy last year, MLS's next step was persuading a player in his prime to join the league. At 25, Ireland is in what can be considered his prime but there will be many who fear he is joining for the same reasons so many have crossed the Atlantic and failed.

In New York, they remember Lothar Matthaus's dismal six months with the Red Bull's predecessors the Metrostars. Some will even point out that Thierry Henry hasn't always appeared committed.

Commitment or at least not a manifest lack of commitment is what MLS supporters demand. The league may be technically inferior to European leagues but it has decided to compensate with a level of roughhousing that wouldn't be tolerated in England.

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Ireland has always had a problem demonstrating commitment because of the great complexities being debated in his butterfly mind.

In his autobiography, Dietmar Hamann writes that "Ireland found it difficult to differentiate between what was weird and bizarre and what was reasonably normal". Hamann felt Ireland needed a sounding board to help him make the distinction and he may need one at the moment as he considers the turn his career is going to take.

The portrait of Ireland in Hamann's book rings true (Ireland's taste, he says, "is Hollywood meets Bollywood with a twist of County Cork") and there is always the possibility with the player that the next attraction seems like the solution to all his problems. New York has always offered the attraction of promised solutions. And there are a million ways a man could solve his problems in New York City.

Hamann also wonders how Ireland could become a professional and not realise that it is going to involve a lot of time spent away from home. If Ireland moved to the Red Bulls, he may need to get used to long road trips. When Keane joined Galaxy, Clive Toye, the former general manager of the New York Cosmos, pointed out that he should have gone to New York, not LA, and tapped into the Irish community in the city.

Joe Tiernan says the Irish community were turned off the Red Bulls when Henry arrived so how they react to the possible arrival of Ireland would be interesting.

Henry has never won over fans in New York but there is a sense that he has been trying to do too much for the team which, when coupled to the familiar egotistical gestures on the field, has made him ineffective.

The Red Bulls need a creative player like Ireland and they crave the success which has eluded them in MLS. Ireland's cravings are harder to fathom, even if it is a move that makes perfect sense for somebody who finds it hard to differentiate between what is weird and bizarre and what is reasonably normal.

The talk of an international return would seem even less likely if he made the move, even with the precedents of Keane and, er, Caleb Folan being named in Ireland squads.

If the deal can be put together before MLS's transfer window closes in mid-April, then Ireland will be moving west to New York. The city will surely be just how he pictured it. If Stephen Ireland is just how they pictured him, then there could be problems.

Ireland made many mistakes when he was young and was criticised for them by those who had forgotten what it was like to be young. Football, for all its failings, demands wisdom in the young. In New York, they hope he has not the same youthful weaknesses which saw him quit international football at 21. Yet he is only 25. Time is on his side if wants to make more youthful mistakes.

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