Stephen Ireland knows just how far he has come in the past year, and Manchester City's Player of the Season is determined to play a key role in the club's future.
Plenty more to come from me, says City star Ireland
Stephen Ireland knows just how far he has come in the past year, but Manchester City's Player of the Season is determined to surpass those achievements by playing a key role in the club's future. The start of the new campaign just cannot come soon enough for the midfielder, who has gone from zero to hero at Eastlands. It was after an 8-1 defeat at Middlesbrough on the final day of the 2007/08 season that shook him to change his mentality towards a career that was heading for oblivion. Ireland's reputation was already stained when he tried to excuse himself from international duty with the Republic of Ireland in Sept 2007, by claiming two grandmothers had died. The reality was his girlfriend had suffered a miscarriage, but the damage had been done. He has not played for his country since, but a more positive attitude has seen him become an inspirational figure for City and earn plaudits from all quarters. "It was weird over the last pre-season," he admitted. "I asked a lot of questions of myself and wasn't sure what could happen. "I know a lot of fans didn't fancy me. I went to a supporters club event after that Boro game and every single fan was negative. "Some players might hide in the corner, but I didn't. I dedicated my summer to getting it right. It was tough for about two months at pre-season and the start of the season, but it now seems a blur. The fans seem to have forgotten all of that and don't hate me any more and that's a good thing. "There's nothing better than to hear them singing your name and I've got to keep giving them reasons to sing my name. I'm happy I could turn things around."
Ireland admits his tale of transformation is one the fans should also remember when they consider the managerial position of Mark Hughes. The Welshman has been under pressure as City finished 10th in the league and missed out on a place in Europe next season. But the club's owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, has backed Hughes and Ireland added: "I am really happy for him - and the club. "There may be some doubts in people's heads, but in time people will realise he is the right man. "It's like me in pre-season last year. People did not want me to be at the club anymore. Some people were saying if Sunderland wanted to pay £8 million (Dh46.9m), then they would drive me there themselves. That hurts, you know. "But it's how you deal with it. The manager has dealt with it in his way and I've dealt with it in my way. It's great he's got the backing because in time people will realise he's the right man for the job."
Ireland, 22, has been a pivotal figure for City under Hughes with his stylish displays and 13 goals. The club are in talks with him over a new long-term contract and, despite reported interest from Manchester United and Arsenal, he says he is not worried if a deal takes time to reach agreement. "I don't think it's a major issue to sign it. I want to be here and I'm going to be here regardless, I've still got two years left. "We are in talks and fingers crossed things will be done smoothly and I can enjoy my summer. "But I'm ready to go for next season. It's going to be exciting, exciting times and will be interesting to see who comes in during the summer.
"But I'm really hungry to push on too. I don't think I'm under any pressure because I don't think people have seen anything really. "It's been a good season, but not good enough. Sometimes I kick myself over certain things, that I now want to make right next time. I think there's plenty more to come. "I just want to work on my all round game. When I run a lot, I have to run effectively. Some games I have, some games I haven't." Being consistent in the mould of the Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, a constant driving force at Chelsea, is the target. Ireland added: "They are consistent and always hit a certain target of goals and get all the highlights and praise. "I know what I need to work on and what kind of player I want to be. The more experience I get, the better I will get. I want to fulfil my potential."