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Sunday 17 December 2017

Anthony Stokes is in last chance saloon

Anthony Stokes
Anthony Stokes

IT would take an unusual set of circumstances and wholesale withdrawals from an Ireland squad before Anthony Stokes ever rose to a position in Martin O'Neill's thinking which made him an international first choice.

Soldiering in a northern outpost of European football like the SPL doesn't help but Stokes' career has been peppered with controversy and his latest brush with authority is just one in a long list.

Read More: Deila excited by massive week for his Celtic side

He is currently awaiting a May 11 trial date for an alleged assault on an Elvis impersonator in Dublin in July 13 last which means that at a time when he should be thinking about some big games Ireland have in June, his name will be plastered across newspapers and linked to yet more trouble

He trailed back to Parkhead a day late after he as allowed leave to travel to Dublin last week and was dumped from Ronny Deila's squad for what turned out to be another epic European night in the Europa League against Inter Milan. He didn't feature in Celtic's 4-0 win over Hamilton Academicals either.

As some have already pointed out in the Scottish media, it seems like madness to risk everything for an extra day in Dublin and particularly when Deila is building a new team at Celtic. This is hardly the right time for Stokes to reinforce an old stereotype when he should be trying to convince a relatively new manager that he is worth keeping.

There is often a feeling that Stokes works within his own set of rules and is not easily managed or advised. He goes through spells where he scores every week and it is easy to see why Arsene Wenger brought him to Arsenal as a kid. But at times like this, you wonder what it is in his make-up which constantly leads him into bother?

At the crunch time in his development at Highbury, he was sent on a loan spell to Falkirk and produced a flood of goals. Arsene Wenger effectively cut him loose after that.

Ultimately, the absence of significant pace was probably the deciding factor for Wenger when he let him go, though back in 2007 when Roy Keane slapped in a successful £2m bid for Stokes, he offered other reasons, namely Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor and Jeremie Aliadiere

"We have a congestion of strikers and it is very unfair just to stop somebody because we have too much congestion in front of him," said Wenger.

Hard to see how Stokes could have challenged Henry or van Persie in any meaningful way and with the knowledge that Wenger really didn't fancy him gnawing away, he was right to leave.

Sunderland was a washout, studded with disciplinary issues which left Keane seething: "Anthony could be a top player or he could be playing non-League in five years!"

Keane was wrong about Stokes ending up in non-league football. He has carved a decent career for himself at Parkhead and has medals in his pocket to prove it.

If Deila decided to offload him he would undoubtedly find a new club but at what level?

Short of a top six Premier League club, nothing will be any better than Celtic. Stokes would have to wave goodbye to things he has become used to, like Champions League football and winning almost every game.

That's the kind of environment which most professional footballers would give their eye teeth for and Stokes is very unlikely to find another gig like it. He should think long and hard on that.

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