Once upon a time a decade ago, there was a youngster called Stephen Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland played Wales in a Euro qualifier in Dublin. Bale was then with Southampton as a youngster but he showed potential of growing into something extraordinary. He was just 17 year old.
There was another youngster Stephen Ireland who was three years older than Bale and was much more developed. He stole the show that day. He was already a breakthrough attacking prospects at Manchester City.
Young Ireland had scored in games against Cyprus and San Marino and in his fourth cap for Ireland he showed his capabilities. At Croke Park, he showed the promise of being the next Roy Keane, scoring the only goal of the game to end Wales’ chances at the European event. Ireland rounded up Welsh keeper Danny Coyne before netting.
Ireland are set to face Wales a decade later but that young rising star is nowhere to be found. Now with Stoke City, Ireland – bearing the same name as his country – failed to live anywhere close to the hype.
After that game, he played two international games before getting on the wrong side of the fans for dishonestly opting out. His action led to his gradual disappearance in Irish football. He had claimed his grandmother died and wanted compassionated leave but he returned to ask for forgiveness after the falsehood was uncovered.
His nine-goal contribution to City in 2009 earned him the Man City Player of the Year award but upon exiting the City squad, his career fizzled out. Roberto Mancini took over from Mark Hughes and with Ireland at Aston Villa, nobody heard from him anymore. Injuries blighted his career no doubt but his fall from grace was epic. Today he is just the regular Premier League cautionary tale.