Stephen Ireland interview Part 1: 'Evan Ferguson reminds me of Robert Lewandowski and Ireland could copy Belgium’s golden generation'

Stephen Ireland interview Part 1: 'Evan Ferguson reminds me of Robert Lewandowski and Ireland could copy Belgium’s golden generation'

Stephen Kenny's men will play Latvia on Wednesday and will then face France in the opening game of their Euro 2024 group.

Ireland has been drawn into a complex group alongside France, the Netherlands, Greece, and Gibraltar.

Ireland has flattered to deceive in qualifying campaigns regarding European Championships and World Cups over the years. There is little optimism that Ireland can make it to the Euro 2024 in Germany at the end of this qualifying cycle.

However, Stephen Kenny has an array of young talent and will aim to give some of his younger fledglings an authentic taste of tournament football.

These include the likes of Brighton & Hove Albion's Evan Ferguson, Southampton's Gavan Bazunu, Wolverhampton Wanderer's Nathan Collins, and many others.

LODZ, POLAND - JUNE 14: Nathan Collins of Republic of Ireland (Photo by PressFocus/MB Media/Getty Images)

One man who knows what it is like to represent his country is former international and Cork native Stephen Ireland.

Ireland played six times for his country and was voted the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) Young International Player of the Year in 2007.

The former Manchester City star played four times in Ireland's UEFA Euro 2008 qualifying group but fell out of the squad for many reasons well known to the Irish public.

This week Ireland sat down with The Irish Post about Euro 2024 Odds to talk about the current Ireland setup under Stephen Kenny, Evan Ferguson's rise, how Ireland beat France, and Ireland's chances of emulating Belgium's golden generation.

Stephen Ireland on Evan Ferguson's quick rise in football

One of the topics of Ireland's two games this coming week will be around Evan Ferguson, Ireland's new young forward that has been included in Stephen Kenny's squad for the international break.

Ferguson is becoming a household name in Irish and English football for his breakthrough season in the Premier League.

His displays for Brighton at 18 years of age have attracted the attention of some of the biggest clubs in England. They include the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur.

A brace for Brighton against Grimsby in the FA Cup last Sunday has only increased Ferguson's stock in world football, and there are even calls for him to lead the line against France next Monday.

After his breakthrough season, Ireland admitted that Ferguson's mental strength impressed him.

"Yeah, he is flying and credit to himself," said Ireland when asked about the Brighton star.

"He is really taken his chance, and he is flourishing. He has shown a lot of resilience, maturity, and mental toughness to play well in every game.

"You hope that he can keep up on his trajectory now and he can be a big hit for Ireland in years to come.

"What he is doing is exceptional. Only a few people at his age can do that. Especially the position he's playing in. It's very hard to hold down.

"That number nine role is one of the hardest to play because clubs invest a lot in those areas, and all credit to him. He's taken his chance. It would benefit him if he could continue the way he is going and close out the season and kick on next year."

'Evan Ferguson reminds me of Robert Lewandowski,' says Stephen Ireland

On Tuesday Stephen Kenny told the media that Ferguson would be starting his first game for Ireland against Latvia

Standing at 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m), Ferguson has the frame and the stature to hold his own in the Premier League and will now get his chance on the international stage this week

He has even often been compared to Manchester City goal machine Erling Haaland, former Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, and other high-profile forwards who have all influenced the game at one stage.

Ireland had other ideas and likened the Bettystown native to Polish goal machine Robert Lewandowski, once at Bayern Munich and now at Barcelona.

"In terms of his style for me I think he is more of a Lewandowski, rather than a Robin van Persie style striker," Ireland added.

"He's strong. He is physical and competes, and can throw his weight around.

"I still think there is a hell of more to see, and there is much more potential there, and he is still finding his feet.

"When he becomes more comfortable, but for now, he is doing a fantastic job and has that balance.

"For me, it's Lewandowski, but again there's so much more to learn, and it is tough. He is heading in the right direction, and I hope it works out for him."

'Ireland could emulate Belgium's golden generation,' says Stephen Ireland.

Ireland heads into the tournament with several young stars on their books, including the likes of Ferguson, Bazunu, Collins, and many others.

People who follow football closely believe that Ireland has a potential golden generation on the horizon with the level of talent coming through. Still, as an Irish fan, it is hard to get excited about potential when the onus is on getting results here and now.

Ireland's current crop has been likened to Belgium's golden generation, which has produced so many stars over the years but ended up with nothing to show for it.

This includes the likes of Eden Hazard (one of the most skillful footballers in the world), Kevin De Bruyne (one of the best midfielders of his generation), and Romelu Lukaku (who became Belgium's all-time top scorer).

Ireland believes that his former country has the potential to copy Belgium's footballing conveyer belt and reap the rewards from it.

"I've said this before Ireland has a lot of talent there. There is a lot of untouched talent in the country.

"There are some outstanding players coming through, and hopefully, in the next four or five years, Ireland could be where Belgium were before.

"Its just an influx of talent that came out of nowhere and it could be a really big squad," explained Ireland

"The problem you have now is it is all potential, and you rely on one or two people to win battles.

"There is some top talent there and you'd hope within the next two to three years with the right coaching you'd like to think Ireland could be a serious force in the future."

Ireland's game against Latvia starts at 19.45 on Wednesday.

RTE are showing the match live with their coverage beginning at 7pm on RTE 2.