FEATURE | Ian Harte: Live, Laugh, Levante

Ian Harte’s career arc can be best described by one of his patented set pieces. A steady run up, a spectacular rise, a significant dip, all culminating in a classy finish.

His reputation and legacy born at Leeds United was rudely interrupted by widespread financial mismanagement at the club.

This provided a springboard for many of Leeds’ marquee players like Harry Kewell and Alan Smith to move to bigger teams. However, the club’s fire sale did not prove as fruitful for Harte.

Unlike his former teammates who largely stayed in the Premier League, Harte flew his Yorkshire nest to pastures slightly more continental by joining newly promoted La Liga side Levante at the start of the 2004/05 season.

His Spanish expedition began in promising fashion, scoring on his debut against Real Sociedad with a trademark free-kick, Levante’s first goal in La Liga for 41 years.

Harte’s contribution slowly faded throughout the course of the season and a groin injury suffered in January saw him miss many games in the second half of the season.

Despite a start that saw the team momentarily occupy 5th place in La Liga, Levante eventually fell to relegation following a final day defeat to Villarreal.

For Harte, relegation to the second division of Spanish football represented the lowest ebb of his career thus far. Four years previously, he had scored the opening goal of Leeds’ Champions League quarter final vs Deportivo La Coruna.

Now he was the forgotten man, homesick in a land where he did not speak the language, and his family were unsettled.

However, eager for instant promotion back to La Liga, the Irishman and his employers were committed to justifying their initial investment in each other.

Harte flourished in Spain’s second tier, stamping his authority on the left-back berth. His contribution of nine goals from defence contributed significantly to Levante’s promotion at the first time of asking.

One more injury plagued season followed in La Liga before Harte and the club finally parted ways, with new coach Abel Resino deeming the left-back surplus to requirements at the start of the 2007/08 season.

Following his departure from Spain, the Drogheda native enjoyed an inauspicious spell at Sunderland with former international teammate Roy Keane. The last of his eight appearances for the club coming in a 7-1 defeat to Everton.

He was transfer listed after only six months before being released at the end of the season.

From there, Harte dropped down to League 1 with Carlisle where he rejuvenated his career, tallying a remarkable 18 goal season in the 09/10 season.

This good form lead to a move back to Championship club Reading, who were promoted to the Premier League at the start of the 12/13 season.

Not many players go from Champions League semi-finals to League 1, and back to the Premier League via La Liga, but Harte’s career trajectory is tinged with many what-ifs.

When you compare the Irishman to other full backs of his generation, the stats very much hold up. In his Premier League career, including stints with Sunderland and Reading, he boasts a better contribution (goals and assists) to game record than Ashley Cole.

A record not to be scoffed at indeed, but what his game lacked was always pace, leading some to believe he may have left the more physically demanding Premier League at precisely the right time.

Whatever way you look at it, Harte enjoyed a very successful career at club and international level. Levante did not see the best of the Irishman, but they saw just about enough to justify his signing.

Ian Harte will have many misgivings about Spain, including his missed penalty against the Spanish national team for Ireland at the 2002 World Cup, but the move to Levante was worth the risk, even if it didn’t work out exactly as he had envisaged.

The left-legged gunslinger now works as a football agent, so don’t be surprised to see one of his clients on the Iberian Peninsula in the not too distant future.

Ciarán Brennan

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