Seamus Coleman has had to endure a number of great adversities in his time with Everton Football Club, and a couple of serious injuries have only been part of that. Having reiterated recently that he didn’t count himself in the pantheon of greats to have pulled on the royal blue shirt until he lifts a trophy with the Blues, the 35-year-old fullback has twice in successive years watched the ignominy of this club needing to secure Premier League survival well into May.
Slowly making his way back from a knee issue that required surgery at the tail end of last season, the Irishman has appeared in two games recently for the Everton Under-21s as he works his way back to full fitness.
Youth manager Paul Tait was effusive in his praise for the club captain after last night’s 1-0 victory over League Two Mansfield Town in the Football League Trophy.
“He’s an inspiration. What he’s done in the game, and what he’s done at Everton. We were lucky to have him for a couple of training sessions and we had him on Saturday for the game.
“It’s the standards he sets, and he’s got real enthusiasm for the game. It’s golden for our lads to be spending time with him, seeing how he prepares and seeing how committed he is. It’s been unbelievable to have him with us.”
I watched Coleman’s performance closely last night especially after he had uncharacteristically switched off to allow a Manchester United attacker get past him on Saturday. Although it is harsh in the extreme to try to read too much into one isolated incident, it’s understandable if you begin to wonder if the horrible injuries have taken their toll on his legs, especially after eight months out of action.
If there was any shred of doubt though, it was quickly removed as his influence was almost immediate against Mansfield. Everton are quite blessed at right back at Under 21 level with 22 year old Kyle John making his return at left back (having also suffered some serious injuries) and the jet-heeled 18 year old Roman Dixon. The difference evident for all to see was Coleman’s leadership and guile.
At one point early on, he found himself hemmed in on the touchline with no team-mate able to offer him an escape route. The simplest thing to do would probably have been to play the ball off a Mansfield player and get a throw-in to regroup and start again with players in space. Not Seamus, he “Cruyff-turned” his way on the outside of his opponent played the ball inside to young Jenson Metcalfe and went for the return.
Having made his debut just over 14 years ago in the cauldron of the Estadio da Luz against Benfica in the Europa League, the club skipper treated that moment last night with equal importance. Why? Because he wanted not to show off but to show the students on the pitch exactly what could be done! Sean Dyche talks about “being brave on the ball”. I would add “Brave not stupid”. He has done that move dozens of times in his long career, it was an attribute he knew he could use safely or at the very least earn a throw while trying it.
He was defensively very sound last night, the only worry being one last ditch challenge which left him in pain on the ground in Everton’s penalty area for a minute with goalkeeper Joao Virginia standing over him looking concerned. I actually held my breath watching and I’m certain I wasn’t alone! He got up, rubbed his knee like it was a minor inconvenience and carried on.
His attacking threat, choosing his moments to link with players learning their game was a joy to watch. For me, he can’t get his coaching badges quickly enough.
It was interesting watching him cajole the players. He won’t spend that much time in regular training with them at Finch Farm but it was almost like there was a player-manager on the pitch with them. I would momentarily make a comparison with the great Howard Kendall as a player. At the age of 35 and a few months shortly after becoming manager, Kendall made a handful of appearances for Everton. His influence then in 1981 was incredible even if, in fairness, his fitness levels were below what they had been in his magnificent hey-day. In the early darker days of his management career he simply showed the players himself how things should be done.
Like Kendall the player, Seamus Coleman, for every half yard he will ever lose in pace he gains a full yard in his mind’s eye as he sees situations he can influence.
I’ll leave it with one last comparison with another Goodison great. For anyone lucky enough, as I was, to have seen Alan Ball play for Everton, apart from his obvious talent, the one thing you couldn’t avoid from pitchside was hearing him! His shrill demands piercing the stadium as he dictated play. A different footballer entirely but Seamus is cut from the same cloth.
In the cold autumnal chill of the sparsely populated and ironically named One Call Stadium in Mansfield, there was simply one voice you heard regularly throughout the first hour or so. That was Seamus Coleman’s. He was simply demanding of the best and if that enthusiasm doesn’t rub off on some of the youngsters then nothing will.
Long may he continue as our captain and as a player in the first team. Nathan Patterson, Kyle John and young Roman Dixon can learn from a master. Welcome back!