Hull City midfielder David Meyler is as well known for playing FIFA 18 as he is for playing for the Republic of Ireland, with over 38,000 subscribers to his Twitch video game streaming channel.
When the 28-year-old was announced as Ireland's captain for Friday's World Cup qualifier with Moldova, some fans were surprised, claiming that Meyler spends more time playing virtual football than real football. Having put in an excellent performance against Serbia in September, Meyler was chosen ahead of the vastly more experienced Glenn Whelan as Ireland's deepest midfielder in a must-win game for the Boys in Green.
Before FIFA 18 was released, EA Sports teased the player ratings for the world's top players as well as a select few from lower down the leagues. Belgium and Chelsea's Michy Batshuayi was unhappy with what he perceived as a low rating, coming in at 80 overall, but Meyler was even more aggrieved thanks to a 69-rated silver card.
The love-hate relationship between player and games producer has not ended there. When Sadio Mane was awarded the Premier League Player of the Month for August, complete with a special edition FIFA card, Meyler responded on Instagram "Disappointed I didn't win." EA replied mockingly to the Championship player "Wrong league mate."
On Friday in Dublin, the Cork-born midfielder looked nowhere near as low as his virtual self in the video game, controlling play with clever short passes and dropping back to help out the defenders and goalkeeper. For much of the World Cup qualifying campaign, Ireland have been a predictable long-ball team, happy to give away possession and play counter-attacking, direct football.
Against Moldova, with Meyler running the show, Ireland looked an entirely different outfit. Daryl Murphy's second minute goal was trademark Ireland: a long throw sent into the big men in the area, with strength and determination forcing the ball over the line.
But the strike that extended the advantage was totally different: a free-flowing period of football, with Stephen Ward getting forward well to cross for Murphy to head in with a perfectly placed finish. It was almost like something out of a video game.
Having someone in the middle of the park looking for the ball allowed Martin O'Neill's side to keep possession, find space, and look for weaknesses in the Moldova defence. If not for poor finishing from Shane Long, who looks bereft of confidence thanks to a drought that stretches back to February with Southampton, Ireland easily could have put four or five past their Eastern European opponents.
Throughout the game, Meyler barked instructions at his team-mates, always looking to retain possession and carve out an opening. Ireland resorted to the long ball on occasion, but after playing in that style for so long and under so many different managers, it is difficult to get rid of old habits. When the Boys in Green won corners or throw-ins high up the pitch, Meyler was the one sitting deep, watching, dictating and leading Ireland to their best home performance of the campaign.
Asked about Meyler's performance and whether he did enough to become Ireland's regular captain, O'Neill joked "I don't know about keeping the armband, but I have to see if he did enough to stay in the side or not. I like Meyler, you know. Sometimes he gets [criticised unfairly]... I like Meyler. I like Meyler a lot, he's never really let us down. We'll see about the captaincy. We have some good players coming back."
When Meyler was shown his 69-rated FIFA 18 card on Soccer AM, the Hull midfielder was exasperated, asking "How can I go home and look at my daughter?" After helping keep Ireland's hopes of qualification alive with a brilliant midfield performance, he will have his head held high.
Maybe EA Sports will have been paying enough attention to give him an upgrade.