Ireland has bore much criticism this season, but Richards told City's website: "I know Stevie really well, after coming through the ranks with him at City, and his mates here have helped him through his problems, which are well documented.
"He lives opposite me - his front door is about five seconds away from mine - and we always help each other out.
"People are always trying to criticise Stevie but he actually has quite a strong character, so for him still to be putting in good performances for City, with everything he has had to deal with, shows that.
"He is a quality player who was always highly rated when he was a youngster at City and is now one of the top players in our first team.
"Stevie has so much up his sleeve skill-wise and has a good goalscoring record as well. He is always in the right position."