The streets will always remember that Cobh's Stephen Ireland was Man City's player of the year in the 2008-09 season. In a surreal season that saw City sold just before transfer deadline day to an arm of the Abu Dhabi government, and finish tenth in the table with a roster that included everyone from Elano to Robinho to Benjani to Didi Hamann, Ireland was king of the City of Manchester Stadium.
It was a surreal season of transformation for Man City but Ireland's stats speak for themselves: 9 Premier League goals in 35 appearances. Mancini would replace Mark Hughes mid-season and the wheels would come off for Ireland in sky blue. But his accomplishments with City were pretty impressive.
Ireland has never been a footballer who seemed burdened by self-doubt. An interview he conducted recently with the RH Elite Coaching Tik Tok page has gone viral where Ireland discusses the best players he played with and against. Ireland was in his pomp in the late noughties - peak Barclay's, basically- and he says he believes he was as good as the best players in England at that time.
"There’s a lot of players I played with, names you’d expect to be good but they weren’t.
“I’ve played against huge names and on the day they’ve never really got the better of me, I never played against someone and thought ‘Wow, these are incredible'.
“Steven Gerrard for example, Frank Lampard every time I played against them I’ve got the better of them.
“Even though they’re incredible players, Paul Scholes, I’ve never had a game where I thought ‘God, I’m out of my depth’, that was never the case.
— 24. (@MP24MP42) May 2, 2023
Ireland spoke of his City teammates and how they drove him that season.
"Playing with, Shaun Wright Phillips was fantastic I loved playing with him, Robinho was very very good, Vincent Kompany was good at the time I suppose.”
That year when I got player of the year at Man City, we had a very good squad, everyone played out of their skin but I was just better than everybody in that season.
The video has really riled up a number of Liverpool and Chelsea fans who don't enjoy hearing Ireland claim he 'got the better' of their respective midfield talismen.
— Empire of the Kop (@empireofthekop) May 2, 2023
Stephen Ireland "always got the better of" Frank Lampard when he played him.
Stephen Ireland was also subbed after an hour in Chelsea's 6-0 drubbing of Man City at the Bridge in 2007, in which Frank Lampard got 2 assists.#CFC #Chelsea #MCFC pic.twitter.com/esWZOTKvkq
— M-RY ⭐⭐ / 🌍⭐ (@M_RY_7) May 1, 2023
That Stephen Ireland interview has to be the most deluded and stupidest thing I’ve seen in a long time…
Who does the guy think he is 😂
— TweetChelseaUK (@TweetChelseaUK) May 2, 2023
But sometimes a one-minute clip on social media only tells a sliver of the story.
Ireland clarifies his comments
Interestingly Ireland has clarified his comments in a follow-up interview on talkSport this evening where he adds more context to the video.
When I played against them personally, I never got into the changing rooms afterwards, and thought 'wow they were incredible, or they handed my arse to me'. I always felt like I competed well enough with them in the moment in that game. Of course, at the stages of their careers, compared to mine, you can't even compare. It's day and night of course.
❌ “My point was when I played against them, I never went ‘wow they were incredible’.”
👀 “I played against Messi in a friendly, he wasn’t very good, I never lost to Ronaldo.”
Stephen Ireland responds to a video of him naming the best players he’s played against pic.twitter.com/AG88Oi8EIF
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) May 2, 2023
And if you don't think Ireland felt awestruck in the presence of truly great footballers, listen to him discuss playing against Henry at Highbury, or Wayne Rooney.
⚡️ “Hazard is the first that comes to mind.”
🤩 “Rooney was ridiculous. Him & Thierry Henry just had this aura about them.”
⭐️ “Modric was ridiculous, too.”
Stephen Ireland names the best players he’s played against in his career pic.twitter.com/ylOIQpOHBo
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) May 2, 2023
Ireland isn't saying he's better than Lamps or Stevie G, just on his day, he held his own. At the height of his powers, Stephen Ireland could hold his own, and it's just a pity we didn't see it for his entire career.