The midfielder the Red Bulls deserve, but not the one it needs right now. Or something.
But do we want him?
Stephen Ireland, the man Michael Ballack's agent called a "no-name player who no one knows, who hasn't started in months" while blasting Erik Soler for being "clueless" last week for not valuing his 35-year-old client is closer to being a Red Bull than we think, according to Ireland's (the country, not the guy) Independent.
The article touches on a lot of important points. For example, the Red Bulls are pushing hard to bring Ireland (the guy, not the country), aiming for mid-April, when Major League Soccer's early season transfer window closes. The article also explores Ireland's eccentricity. While the lifestyle a player like Ireland could have in New York is unparalleled, does he want to live in New York or does he want to play soccer in New York, assuming he actually wants to come to MLS?
Truth be told, the "eccentric" label might be kind depending on who you talk to. For some, "headcase" might be a better description. When playing for Manchester City in 2007-2008, he dropped his shorts revealing Superman underwear after scoring a goal. When Roberto Mancini took over at the Etihad, Mancini said Ireland would have to "change his head" in order to be an effective player. Shortly thereafter, he bolted for Aston Villa for the 2010-2011 season, where he criticized his former teammates for being "money obsessed" but not before demanding £2 million from City to complete the deal. In January 2011 he was loaned to Newcastle United, where he and Leon Best posted for shirtless pictures as nightclub, later described in an apology as a "tongue in cheek joke between friends." Ireland's made his way back to Villa, but was again caught in controversy when a picture of him, shirtless smoking a shisha pipe turned up on Twitter, causing yet another manager to issue a warning that he should be making headlines based on his play, not his nights out.
His behavior in 2007, too, caused a rift with the Irish national team that has yet to be mended. He skipped a national team match against the Czech Republic in UEFA Euro 2008 qualifying, telling then-Ireland manager Steve Staunton his maternal grandmother had died and he had to skip the match to help with funeral arrangements. After it came out she was still alive, Ireland changed his story to say that it was his paternal grandmother, who was also still alive. What had really happened, Ireland said, is that his girlfriend miscarried, causing them to panic. He lied, because he felt it would help him get to her faster and with less controversy.
Yeah, you read that right. Ireland used the old "my grandma died" trick to get out of national team duty.
From the Independent story:
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.
But the guy can do stuff like this. He's 25-years-old. He's exactly the kind of player the Red Bulls need. But like Alessandro Del Piero and Michael Ballack, who want to use MLS as a retirement league, playing out the twilight of their careers, while making a few million and still being effective players while enjoying one of the world's greatest cities, is Ireland attracted to what New York can offer him?
That's not a bad thing, necessarily. When you want to bring a player over -- especially from a league with the reputation of the Premier League -- you use everything you've got, and geographic location is the Red Bulls' best asset that isn't loads of energy drink money. It's no secret Theirry Henry wanted to live in New York, he's gone on the record saying it's his favorite city, and that he's here because of that. But in many ways Henry is the team's engine. He doesn't let the city get in his way like a much younger, less mature Ireland might, and if he does, we don't much see it.
MLSonomics is the reason the Red Bulls haven't transformed into the Studio 54-frequenting, iconic, near-sideshow of a team the New York Cosmos were. No one is going to pick up Red Bulls training jackets years from now and fish out women's phone numbers from the pockets. If Ireland is here for that, he'll be disappointed and worse, he'll be a disappointment.