Yogi saved Celtic ace Stokes' career

ANTHONY STOKES will admit he has made more than the odd boo-boo during his headline-hitting career.

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John Hughes and Anthony Stokes enjoyed a purple patch in both blue and green at Falkirk and Hibs, above
John Hughes and Anthony Stokes enjoyed a purple patch in both blue and green at Falkirk and Hibs, above

But when he is reunited with Yogi in Inverness tomorrow, he believes he will be coming face to face with the man who helped him understand that life is no picnic and that you have to be smarter than average to make the most of it.

However, while the Celtic striker admits he owes much to John 'Yogi' Hughes, his former boss at Falkirk and Hibs, that will not stop Stokes trying to inflict some end-of-year pain on the manager who has just taken over at Inverness Caley Thistle.

Hughes needs no reminding of just how lethal the 25-year-old can be.

It was while on loan at the Bairns from Arsenal six years ago that the-then teenager blasted his way into the consciousness of managers up and down the country - Gordon Strachan tried to sign him for the Hoops - with a prolific six months of goal scoring.

Ironically, his first goals for the club came against Inverness - three in two games spread over just three days in the Scottish Cup and league.

It should have been the forerunner of a glittering career at the very top.

But Stokes has often been his own worst enemy with off-field indiscretions which, as recently as last season, put his future at Celtic in doubt.

Now, with a three-year contract as proof he is finally knuckling down, his New Year's resolution will be to steer clear of trouble and stay in Neil Lennon's starting XI.

But without the intervention of Yogi at Falkirk and then at Hibs - who bought him from Sunderland for £500,000 after he had endured a nomadic existence as a loan player - Stokes knows none of this might have happened.

The striker said of Hughes: "He's been brilliant for me. He gave me a great chance when I went on loan to Falkirk.

"It was the stage in my career when I had to get out and get first-team football regularly.

"He gave me a great platform to show what I could do and it's something I'll always be grateful to him for."

Stokes hit it off immediately with Yogi when he made the short-term move from the dizzy heights of Arsenal to Brockville. The contrast with his manager there, 'The Professor' Arsene Wenger, could not have been more pronounced.

"I didn't know Yogi from Adam when I went there, but I clicked with him straight away," recalled Stokes.

"His management style really suited me and I became good pals with him.

"I've had some of the happiest times of my football career under him.

"He got the best out of me and I'm sure he will get the best out of the lads up at Inverness, too."

Stokes still can't quite work out what it was about Yogi's style which lit his fire. He is just grateful it did.

"I don't know how he got the best out of me," he insisted.

"I just had a good understanding with him and he gave me a lot of freedom to go and express myself.

"I was only a young kid when I went to Falkirk. But, when I went back to Hibs, I went on a bad run and he stuck by me - and then the goals started to flow.

"He's always backed me 100 per cent."

Stokes has never bought into the school of thought Hughes is just a crazy player - remember, his streak behind the TV interviewer at Brockville? - who has transformed himself into a crazy manager.

He knows that behind the wild histrionics on boyish humour there lies a student of the game who takes his job very seriously.

Stokes said: "The one thing I'd say about him is that football's his life. It's all he does.

"It's all he speaks about. It's all you can get out of him. He's got that reputation from way back of being a bit crazy.

"But he's a great football man, and every minute he spends up and down the country scouting players and trying to make his teams better."

Despite a few initial hiccups, Stokes is confident the full Yogi effect will be felt at Inverness.

He was delighted when he heard his old boss had been brought out of cold storage seven months after losing his job at Hartlepool, and was one of the first to try and offer his congratulations when it was announced he was to succeed Terry Butcher at Caley Thistle.

"When he got the job, I tried to ring him a couple of times," revealed Stokes.

"But his phone must have been going out of control, so I texted him instead, and I wished him all the best.

"He's just someone I keep in contact with because I have a lot of respect for him.

He's the kind of guy who I think I'll always keep in touch with."

Now, it could be Stokes' turn to help a young player find the right path in the game.

Hoops team-mate Tony Watt certainly needs someone to guide him, and who better than a man who has faced similar important crossroads in his early career?

Stokes said: "He's gone abroad and he's trying to impress. But he's a young lad who is going to mature with age.

"It's a natural thing. He just needs to get his head down.

"We've all seen he has the quality and, hopefully, he'll come back a better play for the experience of being over in Belgium.

"I'm sure it can be hard going adapting to another culture.

"I've never been in that situation myself, though. But it might be a good thing.

"The way he was thrown into the limelight after scoring against Barcelona, there was probably a lot of pressure on him.

"This might do him the world of good."

Football

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