Stuart Holden's football career can most certainly be viewed as a case of what could have been, not only for the player himself but for Sunderland AFC.
At Bolton he was their star midfielder, and was rightly linked with moves to teams inside the top four having been such an important player for the Trotters, particularly in the 2010-2011 season. He was so important, in fact, that having picked up an awful knee injury because of a poor Jonny Evans tackle, the club fell from seventh place in March to fourteenth by the end of that term, largely due to the hole that was left behind when Holden was out of action.
Stuart's career was basically over that day, as the injury sustained continued to plague him up until the day he last kicked a ball. By the age of twenty-five, the rise of a player that was tipped to go on to bigger things was cruelly halted due to a badly timed tackle by another professional footballer.
Holden was signed by Mick McCarthy in the winter of 2005 at a time when Sunderland were, well, basically skint, and had he not had his time here cut short due to injury and been allowed to prove himself whilst fit, he may well have earned a longer deal and became a first team player going forward.
Sadly, it was through no fault of his own that things didn't transpire the way they were supposed to.
Stuart's run of bad luck which seemed to follow him throughout his football career started whilst on a night out in Newcastle, where he was blindsided by a punch from a stranger whilst waiting for a taxi outside of the Gate in the city centre, and was left with a fractured eye socket which sidelined him for around two months.
In an interview with the Independent in 2010, Holden spoke about the attack and the impact that he had on him and how it hampered his football career. He said:
I couldn't tell you if it had anything to do with football rivalry. They were from Newcastle and we were from Sunderland, but I can't answer that one way or the other.
I just know that there was CCTV on the rank but there was a fight down the street so the camera panned away and when it panned back, I was lying on the ground. They never caught them.
The punch caused damage to the muscle in the eye, which prevented Holden from looking up or down. On top of that, he suffered two months of double vision which harmed his chances of proving himself in Sunderland's reserve side, having only been signed to a six month trial contract.
My contract there was option-based and I knew if I hadn't played any games and they go to the Premier League, I'd be out.
If I looked up in the air I'd see two balls. Sunderland wouldn't let me play until I could see properly so I would be tested every week at the eye clinic to see when my eyes would align back up. In the end they did.
For a nineteen year old in an unfamiliar country it was something he struggled to cope with and, added to the fact he soon after picked up an ankle injury which ruled him out for the rest of the season, Stuart returned home to the United States and was released at the end of his Sunderland contract.
For him, that's where his career essentially began. He returned back to America after an awful experience playing in the North East, made a name for himself playing for Houston Dynamo in the MLS, and then returned to England in January of 2010 when Bolton Wanderers signed him. Holden represented his country on twenty-five occasions, played at the World Cup and seemingly had the world at his feet until a series of unfortunate injury problems cut his career short, with him officially retiring from football on the third of February at the age of thirty.