Andrew Smith: Stokes punishment doesn’t fit crime

Celtic manager Ronny Deila puts an arm around Anthony Stokes after last season's League Cup final. Picture: SNS Group
Celtic manager Ronny Deila puts an arm around Anthony Stokes after last season's League Cup final. Picture: SNS Group
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A sarcastic, frustration-fuelled tweet now seems certain to hasten the departure of Anthony Stokes from Celtic. In reality, though, the Irishman’s parting with the club has long been in the post.

In a perverse way, indeed, the 27-year-old might welcome the attention garnered as a consequence of his taking to social media to mump about not making the bench after travelling up with the senior squad to Inverness on Sunday. Even as it emerged yesterday that the ill-advised act had earned him the draconian punishment of a two-week suspension.

Stokes is entitled to feel aggrieved at being hung out to dry by a club with a curious line in moral relativism of late. His torture will soon be over – for the benefit of all parties

At least, it could be said, the latest round of publicity attaching itself to a controversy-magnet has given cause to remember that Stokes is a contracted footballer. For the best part of a year, the Irishman seems to have been reduced to the role of bloke who appears in the background of training pictures comprising Celtic players who actually take to the pitch for the club.

If nothing else, then, Stokes has reminded us of his availability. And with Cardiff City, Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic linked with possible interest, simply marking time in the east end of Glasgow – or the Highlands, for that matter – shouldn’t be driving him to distraction on the twittersphere into the new year.

SEE ALSO - Craig Fowler: Money isn’t a cure for Anthony Stokes’ unhappiness

If any sympathy can be extended to Stokes it is that initially he seemed to embrace, and be energised by the Ronny Deila regime in which there is a demand for total commitment to conditioning. Very early in the Norwegian’s managerial tenure, it became apparent he did not consider the formerly freescoring forward suited to the central striker role in his 4-2-3-1 formation.

From that point in the summer of 2014, the obituaries were being written for Stokes’ Celtic career. Again. As they had been three years ago, when Deila’s predecessor Neil Lennon was forced to sanction him for breaches of discipline, and distance the club from the striker’s decision to attend a benefit night for murdered Real IRA leader and childhood associate Alan Ryan. Then there is the pending court case over an alleged assault on an Elvis impersonator in the summer of 2013.

Stokes, though, buckled down under Deila. He remade himself as a wide-left attacker and grew bigger biceps as well as new hair, proudly relating a year ago how he had shed half a stone by sticking to a strict diet and fitness regime. The great survivor, written off after his unprofessional attitude led to him being chased out of Sunderland and then chased out of nightclubs as a Hibs player, seemed to have his waywards instincts under control.

It is easily forgotten now but, for a spell last season as Deila remoulded the Celtic team (into one that succeeded in emerging from a tricky Europa League group, no less), Stokes was being presented as having experienced the sort of footballing epiphany that his fellow hair-loss addresser Leigh Griffiths is now congratulated for.

Then Stuart Armstrong arrived from Dundee United in February 2015. Effectively, the game was up for Stokes. In the past eight months, he has started six games. Three of those – against United in the cups – Armstrong was not eligible for. A fourth, a game at Tannadice in August, which marked Stokes’ most recent outing, came when Armstrong was rested. Deila has been brutally blunt about the discarding of Stokes. Others, he says, are better,.

Stokes’ tweet on Sunday – described as “respectless” by his manager – was a cry of despair from his playing purgatory. The forward has said he judges himself by his goals. In those terms, he is currently a nowhere man without a 
single net-bulging moment across the whole of 2015.

You have to go back a decade, when he was turning 17 in 2005, for the last calendar year during which he didn’t score a single senior goal. As an Arsenal loanee with Falkirk at that age, he had half a season where he netted almost every game. His record in Scottish football thereafter, with Hibs and Celtic, nestles around a goal every other game.

Yet, Stokes’ problem now is that he is perceived as dispensable, and a recidivist. These types are always treated more harshly by football clubs than prized performers. Let’s be honest here, the Irishman’s banishment from his place of employment for a fortnight represents a punishment that simply does not befit the crime of pinging out an injudicious tweet.

Indeed, Stokes’ latest transgression utterly pales when set against Kris Commons lacerating the Celtic coaching team in front of the TV cameras (or, as many suspected, for the benefit of the TV cameras) after he was substituted in Molde last month. Yet, a brief apology from the attacker and the matter was closed. Also, where was the two-week suspension for Griffiths after he admitted to belting out – in a packed Edinburgh pub – a despicable chant calling Czech former Hearts player Rudi Skacel “a f***ing refugee”?

Stokes is entitled to feel aggrieved at being hung out to dry by a club with a curious line in moral relativism of late. He just better avoid going on twitter to express his disgruntlement. His torture will soon be over – for the benefit of all parties.