Friday night confirmed where the Republic of Ireland’s and Anthony Stokes’ level is
The Celtic striker was once a source of hope but struggled to fulfil his potential like a lot of the international players
“Stokes could be a top, top player in four or five years or he could be playing non-League,” said Keane. “He’ll go one way or the other, I’m sure. The obvious pitfall for him is The Glass Spider [local nightclub]. He’s got to be careful . . . As his manager, I’ve got a role to play but you can’t follow the modern player 24 hours a day.”
The ins and outs of his career since don’t make for great reading. By his 21st birthday, he’d played for different five clubs, each one a rung further down the football ladder. Heading back to Scotland to play for Hibs in 2009 unquestionably saved his career and his status as Ireland’s sole representative in the Champions League with Celtic this season is something at least.
But by now we know where Anthony Stokes’s level is. If we had any doubt, Friday night confirmed it. Whatever about the mistake for the first goal – worse errors have been far less heavily punished in this campaign – it was the way he missed his chances that told of a career that just hasn’t made enough out of the raw materials.
The thrash at Ciarán Clarke’s header as it dropped down from the crossbar was a moment of human panic. Ditto the lamp into the stands after he’d taken Glenn Whelan’s incredible pass out of defence wide of Manuel Neuer.
But the worst was the touch he took in front of goal when Séamie Coleman rifled a crisp ball across. He controlled the ball into exactly the wrong spot, narrowing Neuer’s angle for him without the keeper having to move. Seven years as a pro ought to have ironed out a kink like that by now.
We spend so much time in these post-mortems wailing about the lack of a proper infrastructure in the game here. And with good reason, obviously. But think back to the Anthony Stokes who was delivered to the professional game as an 18-year-old, the one who held his own in the same Arsenal youth team as Alex Song, Kieran Gibbs, Fabrice Muamba and Nicklas Bendtner. For all the institutional shortcomings, that kid made it to the start line in pretty good shape.
At a certain point, it must come down to professional footballers and their will or otherwise to make the best of themselves. If we keep laying the blame on stubborn managers and incompetent systems, it lets too many players off the hook.