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Dublin: 10°C Friday 14 May 2021

Hundreds of millions of talent on show, but a £60k purchase from Sligo the standout in Merseyside derby

Irish captain Seamus Coleman was named man of the match for his display in the Everton-Liverpool game.

Seamus Coleman challenges Sadio Mane.
Seamus Coleman challenges Sadio Mane.
Image: Peter Powell/PA Wire/NMC Pool

WHEN IT COMES to assessing the best-ever Premier League signings, in terms of value for money, Seamus Coleman must be right up there.

It’s over 11 years since the Donegal native joined Everton from Sligo in a £60,000 purchase.

It was ex-Celtic star and former Sligo Rovers player-manager Willie McStay who recommended Coleman to then-Everton boss David Moyes, and the Ireland international has seldom looked back since.

Coleman made an eye-catching debut against Spurs less than a year after joining the Toffees and has gone on to make over 200 appearances for the Premier League side.

Of course, there have been occasional setbacks, most notably the leg break Coleman suffered in March 2017 during an Ireland-Wales game that kept him out of action for almost a year.

Having been once thought of as comfortably among the Premier Legue’s best right-backs — during the 2013-14 campaign, he made PFA Team of the Year and was named both the players’ and supporters Player of the Year at the club — in recent times, critics have begun to question whether he is past his peak.

Certainly, at 31, Coleman no longer can burst down the right flank in the manner he did in such spectacular fashion in the earlier days of his career.

With more than a decade of Premier League experience under his belt, it has come to the point where he is no longer able to play every single minute of league action for his club, though he has had a respectable return of featuring in 19 of Everton’s 30 top-flight games this season.

And on Sunday evening against Liverpool, at a near-empty Goodison Park, he was deservedly named man of the match for an impressive performance at the back.

Older players in particular such as Coleman may have been forgiven for lacking sharpness after months without a first-team game, yet the Irish star looked to be among the fittest and most alert players on the pitch.

Coleman was tasked with keeping one of the Premier League’s most lethal attackers, Sadio Mane, quiet over the course of the game.

And the Irish skipper was thoroughly effective in carrying out his job. There was one instance in particular that stood out. In the second half, with players tiring, the ball came to Mane on the left wing. The Senegal international had a five-yard head start on Coleman, yet the defender did brilliantly to get back and make an excellent recovery challenge.

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This incident epitomised a dogged performance by Everton, who deserved at least a point against a Liverpool side who looked rusty and lacking their usual ingenuity in attack as they dropped points for just the third time in the league this season.

Coleman barely put a foot wrong all match, helping ensure his team were well-organised throughout and combated Liverpool’s much-vaunted attack with relative ease.

And he was similarly good in the equivalent fixture last season — another stalemate that left the Reds frustrated and a rare instance in which victory eluded them.

He may not boast the attacking qualities of his opposite number today, Trent Alexander-Arnold, but in terms of defensive prowess, decision-making, reliability and leadership, Coleman remains one of the best in the top flight.

His good form is encouraging news for Stephen Kenny, particularly on a day when two other members of Ireland’s established back four had afternoons they would rather forget.

There has been some calls in recent times for Matt Doherty to replace Coleman as Ireland’s first-choice right-back.

And it’s certainly understandable from the point of view that Doherty would be most people’s choice as the standout Irish player in the Premier League for the past two seasons now.

Yet one interesting aspect of Coleman’s performance today was that, at times, he was positioned more as a third centre-back than a traditional full-back.

Moreover, the experienced star has been designated the right-sided centre back position by Carlo Ancelotti on more than one occasion this season.

So with Doherty and Enda Stevens both comfortable in wing-back roles and likely to offer greater pace and energy to Coleman at this stage of their respective careers, Kenny must surely be tempted to experiment with a 3-5-2 system during the Nations League clashes against Bulgaria and Finland next September, which will precede the all-important Euros play-off against Slovakia in October.

Of course, there is plenty of football to be played between now and then, and having any kind of expectations in this highly uncertain climate seems somewhat futile. But for now, Coleman’s performance bodes well and suggests the accomplished pro has plenty more miles on the clock yet.

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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