Sometimes they say you need to go back to move forward and in the case of Ian Harte never has a saying carried so much meaning. From a goal scoring Champions League quarter final appearance against Deportivo de la Coruna with Leeds to a spell in league one with Carlisle, the fall from grace of Harte almost mirrored that of his former employers.
Alongside his uncle, Gary Kelly, Harte was part of David O’Leary’s penny foolish, pound foolish Leeds team that almost wrote footballing history on the field, a feat they managed to achieve off it.
The Louth native made his Leeds debut 17 years under George Graham, against current club Reading, however it was as one of O’Leary’s fledglings, that he emerged as one of the best young left backs in England.
What Harte lacked for in pace he more than made up for with his ability to read the game, a good strong tackle and his set piece delivery.
A free kick and penalty specialist, Harte scored 28 goals for Leeds and in 349 games in English football has scored an incredible 62 goals. Harte also sits in 10th place in the all time record Irish goal scoring charts with 11 goals.
Following the financial collapse of Leeds, Harte, then only 27, made the turned his back on England despite plenty of interest and made decision to move to La Liga for the bright lights of Levante.
It was a brave decision that was to become a trademark of Harte.
Harte spent three seasons in Spain, scoring the first goal of the club’s new found status as a top flight club however his most prolific spell came when the club, relegated in his first season, earned their place once more back amongst the elite.
Injury ultimately hampered his spell in Spain and in the end the club terminated his contract. Harte was a free agent once more.
Out of sight, Harte’s decision to move to Spain meant he was also out of mind and he struggled to find a club. Harte did turn down a move to Wolves while a chance to join Charlton came to nothing when Alan Pardew was sacked. His 11 years experience earned at the top level in England and Spain counted for nothing, nobody was willing to take the plunge.
Roy Keane eventually did and Harte made the move to the North East of England with Sunderland.
It didn’t work out neither did a ill-fated spell Blackpool while a move to St Mirren in the SPL fell apart when Harte had a change of mind after agreeing to join the club.
Harte’s career was in free fall and he seemed set for life as a footballing journeyman.
That fate seemed to be confirmed when his desire to continue to play football and make a living in the game the he loved saw a then 31 year old Harte move to Carlisle.
It would mark the beginning of his second coming.
His 12 months at Brunton Park saw an injury free Harte restore his reputation somewhat and earned him a place on the League one team of the season.
Harte proved to be revelation under Gary Abbot as he finished top scorer with 18 goals and helped the club to the Football League Trophy final. His performances were enough to convince Brian McDermott to bring him to the Madejski Stadium.
Harte, a two man club for 11 years was now with his fourth club in as many years and interestingly enough he has yet to command a transfer fee over £100,000.
In fact he made the move to the Madejski for £70,000, a fee that shows that in the money mad football there are still bargains to be had.
It’s a brave and determined footballer that takes stock of his career and decides to make a downward or sideways move, and Harte’s decision must be admired.
After being written off by almost everyone including Roy Keane at Sunderland Harte has shown a fighting spirit that not even his former team mate could have matched to bounce back. It is something Ireland could benefit from.
Of course he is not the first make such a move, Nick Barmby got his just rewards when he left Leeds United for his hometown club Hull.
When the former Everton, Liverpool and England midfielder decided to join his boyhood club, then in league one, at the ripe old age of 30 many thought it was the end. However he enjoyed an Indian summer to his career helping his club into the Premier League for the first time in their history.
More recently Joe Cole did it when he made the decision to leave Liverpool for Lille, admittedly though Ligue 1 is not a footballing outpost however the move to France meant that he would not be in the public eye.
Not even Harte himself could have imagined how the move would re-ignite his status in English football though. His desire and determination to make to grasp his second chance has seen him become an integral part of the Reading first team.
His first season back in the second tier of English football saw him named on the PFA team of the year as he scored an impressive 11 goals to help Reading to the play offs.
While promotion via the play off’s eluded Harte and his team mates last season, McDermott’s man management skills not to mention a settled team have gone from mid table to the premiership this time thanks in no part to an incredible run of 46 points from a possible 51.
Under the guidance of former Arsenal star McDermott, the Berkshire side have stayed true to the footballing philosophy of the man who initially took them to the top flight, Steve Coppell.
While the football might be more akin to Swansea it is build on defensive stability.
Key to that has been Harte with Reading boasting the division best defensive record with just 37 goals conceded. While the goals have dried up slightly, Harte has scored four so far, the number of assists has increased from one last season to seven this time round.
His most recent contributions have been a winner against Brighton and an assist for the goal that clinched promotion in the 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest.
Over four years since his graced a Premier League game Harte looks set for one final fling at the top. His rejuvenation echoes that of Stephen Carr, who also took the step back before rediscovering his passion for the game.
An injury hit spell with Newcastle saw Carr lose his love for the game however moves to Birmingham, then as there are now, a Championship side, rejuvenated the former Spurs man.
He returned to the Premier League with Birmingham and such was his form that he ranked as one of the top right backs in the league at the time.
While his second coming in Premier League ended in relegation his time top at the top earned him a Carling Cup medal and with it another chance to sample European football.
Such was his form that Carr was considered for a call up to the Ireland squad however the player decided against it.
Would Harte do the same if asked? Is it worth contemplating the prospect that there could there be even more light at the end of the tunnel for Harte with an unlikely call up to the Irish squad for the European Championship?
Harte won the last of his 64 Irish caps in 2007, 11 years after he made his debut following just four games for Leeds. Last year he raised some minor headlines, and probably chuckles, when he revealed that the Irish set up didn’t realise he was Irish. Hopefully by now they are to up speed.
While a call up is very doubtful especially at this stage, the left back berth, currently in the hands of Stephen Ward, has looked one of the less solid positions in Giovanni Trapattoni’s line up and would benefit from the guiding hand of a specialist left back.
Ward, much like his predecessor, Kevin Kilbane, is a converted defender and while the Wolves man offers a real attacking presence his defensive side is still a work in progress.
Harte would offer more defensive stability, especially with Aidan McGeady not renowned for his work in his own half. The veteran has been there before, having played for Ireland in the 2002 World Cup and his experiences would be a high benefit to the squad.
While Ward is set to be the first choice come Poland in June, there is a case for the inclusion of Harte.
With a back operation ruling Kevin Kilbane out of the trip to Poland Ireland will make the journey out East without a recognised specialist left back.
John O’Shea and Sean St Ledger can both play out on the left however they are more comfortable in the centre.
Sometimes when everything is going right for a footballer it can rub off on other players and let’s face it with the vast majority of the side facing into relegation battles this season, the Irish squad will head to the Euro’s without a winners medal between them at any level, something Harte should have in the back pocket by this weekend.
A footballer who is dedicated to his position, has a strong defensive understanding, a desire to win, the character to spring back after being written off and good experience are all traits that Trapattoni craves. They are not far from his grasp.
Harte has shown tremendous bouncebackability to make the jump from League one football to Premiership star and if he can it one step further and travel to Eastern Europe in June it would one of the most remarkable international returns of Irish football.