The situation with Anthony Stokes is a troubling one.
Anthony Stokes is one of those players who has always frustrated me.
Before I go on, I’m going to make a confession; I was a fan of his for a while, before he was a Celtic player, until the day he came to Parkhead for signing talks and then left without agreeing a deal. A few days later he had signed for Sunderland, and for me that was it.
He became one of those guys, a player who had made his bed and who I would have been comfortable to see sleep in it until the end of his career.
When he failed in England and came back to Scotland I knew he would end up at Celtic anyway, and I never wanted him.
I never reconciled myself to his signing for our club.
I’m putting that on the table in advance of writing another word.
The last time I wrote about Stokes a fellow “Celtic fan” accused me of anti-Irish racism – one of the stupidest, most incoherent charges ever levelled at me – and whilst I absolutely refute the notion I am perfectly happy to admit that I was anti-Anthony Stokes.
But I’ll tell you, I felt the same way on the day we signed Scott McDonald, which I thought was an insult considering that he was the player who consigned us to defeat on Black Sunday.
I couldn’t believe that signing, but he turned me around right quick and on the day he left I was genuinely gutted at the loss of a player I considered a class act.
I never felt that way about Anthony Stokes.
Although I came to respect him for always putting in a shift, I always thought he lacked too many qualities and that little bit of class that separates a top quality player from one who is middling at best.
About three years ago I got so fed up with his failures in big, big games that I took to calling him Celtic’s Kris Boyd; a player who could only do the job in Scotland.
I’ll tell you what, though; he was, and I think he still is, capable of doing that week in week out.
His record at Celtic is pretty good. 58 goals in 138 games.
That’s not to be sneezed at, although the vast, vast majority of them were in the SPL.
And this is where I have some sympathy with him.
I understood Stokes’ frustration at the weekend.
He’s not been in the team for months, and in that time he’s watched Nadir Ciftci toiling in matches where the Irishman might have been a better option.
I’ve seen him playing the sole striker role and whilst he’s not great at it – we actually don’t have a forward capable of doing that well – he’s got more experience there, and performs better than I’ve yet seen the Turkish player manage.
Stokes is a proven scorer at this level, and for Ronny Deila not to utilise him at all is a little difficult to understand.
Now, I’m not privy to what’s gone on at training or whatever – and the manager has expressed doubts about his discipline – but can it be that bad?
I suspect not, although, perversely, what he’s done here has simply lent weight to Ronny Deila’s view.
Airing his grievances in public is just wrong.
It wasn’t the sign of a mature player, of someone who’s getting a grip and working hard to save his career.
Those kind of arguments are better left for the dressing room, and he ought to have known better.
But Deila’s previous comments about the player’s need to work harder if he’s to get in the team are actually at odds with his decision, in the summer, to tell Stokes he was no longer part of the plans.
If you’re not part of a manager’s plans, what difference does it make how hard you work?
You’re not going to convince him to keep you hanging around.
But here’s where the real problem lies; Stokes, of course, is not the first player at the club to indulge in a little petulance lately.
Kris Commons famously had a go at the whole of the backroom team not long ago, in front of the TV cameras, and he wasn’t raked over the coals for it.
That was all settled in-house, amicably, and nothing further was made of it.
Today Stokes is all over the news, humiliated publicly, although he, like Commons, apologised.
This looks like a shocking double standard to me, and makes this action less like a manager showing his strength than one showing his weaknesses.
It’s inconsistent, and that can inevitably lead to further issues.
To discipline a player who’s not featuring in the side whilst he lets a fan favourite essentially attack his backroom team in a very public manner … well, that’s just not right.
And don’t let anyone think I’m using this as an excuse to have a go at Ronny.
I think Stokes deserved his punishment, although we ought not to have made a public spectacle of it.
That is overkill, and stinks of bad management.
In short, I want to know the difference between what Stokes did and what Commons did.
It’s his failure to take similar action against the midfielder which makes this a ridiculous move, along with the public nature of this punishment.
A lot of people at Celtic Park need to screw their heads on right now.
It looks more undisciplined at Parkhead than the Labour shadow cabinet.
Scott Brown’s injury means that our on-field leader is going to be missed, badly.
I worry more about who is providing the leadership off of it.