Former Manchester City midfielder — a close friend and former team-mate of Vincent Kompany — tips Burnley to become a 'real force' in years to come
The Clarets have one foot back in the Premier League thanks to boss Vincent Kompany, who is close friends with the ex-Republic of Ireland international.
The pair played together at the Etihad for a couple of seasons under the stewardship of Mark Hughes and Roberto Mancini, with Ireland landing the club's Player of the Year prize in 2008-09.
Ireland, who ended his career at Bolton Wanderers, yet played his final game as a professional for Stoke City, believes the Championship leaders are in very good hands.
He said: "I don’t think anyone could have anticipated how well he would have done in his first job after football, I certainly didn’t think he would do this well so quickly! He’s done everything right and transformed the club, from the playing style to the staff.
"I think Burnley in the next five years are going to be a real force, whether he is there or not I don’t know, but even if he leaves he will leave the club in such a great place."
Two wins in their next two games — against Sunderland (at Turf Moor) and Middlesbrough (at the Riverside) — would guarantee Burnley's return to the top flight with seven games still left to play.
The table toppers are well on course to become only the sixth second tier club to reach 100 points, and are heavy favourites to wrap up the title having opened up a 13-point gap over Sheffield United.
And Ireland, who often bumps into Kompany in a non-working environment, says that the ex-City skipper was always destined to go on to achieve big things in the game once his playing career was over.
"It’s nice to see Vince outside of his environment, like when we went to a Chris Brown concert last week, or going to dinner and having a catch up with him," said Ireland, in conversation with BoyleSports.
"But he cannot switch off, he absolutely loves football and he is obsessed with it. He’s a really good guy; really smooth, a nice guy and such a gentleman. He hasn’t changed at all, still such a top guy and he was always wired up for some type of football role.
"Whether that was a sporting director role or a manager role, he was definitely built for that. The first time he arrived in Manchester he was always studying and at night time he went to university. He was just doing different degrees and his work ethic was more than just about football.
"He really maximised the hours of the day to develop himself in different areas. He is a very educated guy and I am absolutely delighted for him because you go into his house and he has things all over his walls about football in his office. He is just relentless!"