Houllier hoping for Ireland return
Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier has today stated that he hopes Stephen Ireland will reconsider his international retirement and return to the Republic of Ireland squad.
When asked about Ireland’s self-imposed exile, Houllier said “That was his decision and he took it before he came here. As a former national coach I was surprised.”
Having previously managed France from 1992 to 1993, as well as being Aime Jacquet’s assistant when the French won the World Cup in 1998, Houllier knows the positives of a footballer playing regular international football. “I prefer it when my players go away for internationals”, he admitted. “They have to play at a certain level.”
The Cork midfielder last played for Ireland against Slovakia on September 8th, 2007 under Steve Staunton. Less than an hour before kickoff Ireland received a phonecall from girlfriend Jessica informing him that she had had a miscarriage. “I passed the manager Steve Staunton in the corridor and he said: ‘Is everything all right?’,” Ireland said. “That was the exact moment it all went wrong. I should just have told him the truth. He is such a good person. I would have trusted him with my life. So why didn’t I trust him with the truth? I don’t know. I panicked and told him there had been a death in my family. I said I had to get back and he said: ‘OK’.
“After I played in the game I took a private jet back to Manchester. Before I left I asked that the press be told it was a family matter, no more. By the time I got off the plane everybody knew — or thought — that my grandmother was dead. The story had leaked. It went from strength to strength and I was right in the middle of it. It was a nightmare.
“All of a sudden I found myself in a big hole and I couldn’t get out of it. There were so many stories out there and when I got to the end of the season I just realised that I had to somehow draw a line under it all.”
However, Ireland has ruled out returning to the Ireland fold, and in August gave his reasons for doing so. “It was a very difficult time for my family and I when my Ireland career came to an end because some of the abuse that came our way pretty nasty,” said the midfielder.
“We received a lot of bad press, hate mail, the odd threat that was pretty scary and when you have been through something like that, you don’t want put yourself in that position again. This is why I have no intention of playing for Ireland again. It’s just not something that interests me and I haven’t missed it for one moment.
“There was a lot of stuff around that time which was unpleasant. Personal abuse, trouble for my family and there were things going on around my house that were not nice. I suppose I brought some of it on myself, so I had to accept it and get on with it.
“While I don’t have regrets about anything I’ve done in my career, I accept some of the negative publicity that came my way was because of my own actions. I decided not to play for Ireland any more and some people took offence to that.
“You might think I’d go back just to stop my family getting abuse, but the people around me would never put any pressure on me to do something just for their sake and so long as I have my family close to me, I don’t care what anyone else things about me.
“What my critics don’t realise is I’m not this over-confident, over-paid footballer they read about. I’m actually a quiet guy who lacks a lot of self belief and that may be part of the reason why I never felt at home in the Ireland set up.c
When Giovanni Trapattoni became Ireland manager, Ireland met the Italian and Liam Brady in Dublin to discuss his possible return. However, Ireland was not impressed by the actions of the two men, saying how Trap went off to answer his phone on numerous occasions, and called the meeting “strange and bizarre”. He has also stated that the FAI will need to change from the ground-up if he is to ever return.
“A lot of changes need to be made within the FAI before we move in the right direction,” Ireland claimed. “I’ve had problems with the FAI dating back to the days when I was playing for the junior Ireland sides. I used to get trains at 6.30am in the morning to go up to Dublin to meet up with the squad and I was left at the station and told to find my own way to the training base.
“I’ve never felt as if I was treated very well by the FAI officials as it always seemed like a big graft to have to go and play in their teams, so I came to the decision that I don’t want to do it any more.
“I watch Ireland matches like anyone else might do at this stage, but I don’t feel a part of it at all. It doesn’t make me feel like I should go back play again. That question is gone for me and the answer won’t change my mind.”
Even with Houllier’s input, it seems very unlikely Stephen Ireland will add to his 6 caps and 4 goals for his country.