Troubled Stokes pays the price for new error of judgment
Anthony Stokes should be in the prime of his career - not facing serious questions about the direction in which it's heading.
The Dubliner turns 28 next summer and, barring a dramatic turnaround in fortunes, he will celebrate that milestone having missed out on the European Championships in France. Celtic's decision to suspend the striker for two weeks after his weekend Twitter outburst leaves him at a crossroads. With the players on the periphery of Martin O'Neill's plans needing to do something special to force their way onto the plane, the timing couldn't be any worse.
It's a sad state of affairs for a player with exceptional ability. Last Christmas, the late, great Joe Corcoran, the legendary Manchester United scout who so sadly passed away earlier this year, regaled a small audience at a media function by detailing the outstanding schoolboys he'd watched in his 40-plus years on the sideline.
Stokes, who eventually opted for Arsenal, figured high up a list that put him in esteemed company.
Unfortunately, despite coming on the scene in a period where Ireland was crying out for someone to take the pressure off Robbie Keane, Stokes has won just eight caps. At this stage, he faces a battle to make double figures.
To be fair to Stokes, the punishment for his latest misdemeanour doesn't really seem to fit the crime. He will know that he shouldn't have vented his frustration at his exclusion from the squad at Inverness by tweeting sarcastically about his wasted journey north to sit in the stands.
It was disrespectful to his team-mates and a dig at his manager Ronny Deila, similar to a public tantrum from Kris Commons when he was substituted against Molde. Commons was criticised heavily by the boss, but he was not told to stay away from the training ground for two weeks; the cynical take is that he's of more importance to the Norwegian so he had little to gain from making him unavailable. Stokes' last first-team outing came in August so, clearly, Deila is already well accustomed to planning without him.
The news that the ex-Hibs front man had been suspended was accompanied by references to an ongoing investigation which implies there is more to it than a simple search of his Twitter page.
Either way, the problem for the player is that it will now be added to his previous list of indiscretions. Those who know Stokes well say that 'bad boy' would be an unfair description of his character. In truth, he's been guilty of naivety and poor judgment on various stages of his journey, including an appearance at a memorial for Real IRA boss Alan Ryan - he deserved the punishment from Celtic on that occasion.
His fondness for nightclubs and issues with punctuality wound up Roy Keane at Sunderland, and he didn't have the international standing to pull out of a Giovanni Trapattoni squad with the Italian told that fatigue was an issue.
The frustrating thing for Stokes is that he found his best form for Celtic in the latter stages of Trapattoni's Irish tenure, with mature performances in Europe that were underrated because his better work came outside the box. Trapattoni was in no mood to forgive. An incident with an Elvis impersonator in a Dublin club, which has yet to be resolved via legal channels, added to the rap sheet.
Where now? In a strange way, this flashpoint will alert a wider range of clubs to his unhappiness at Celtic and seeing as he's very much out of favour, it would be hard for the SPL champions to haggle too hard if suitors were willing to make an offer.
Stokes has never really shone in England over a consistent period, so a switch to the Championship could actually boost his profile from an Irish perspective. Cardiff are admirers and a short-term reunion with Neil Lennon at cash-strapped Bolton could also suit if their financial plight allowed it.
His need for a fresh start is urgent. At this stage, the one-time boy wonder has to allow his football do the talking.