Roberto Martinez’s new look Everton was the subject of my last Premier League column, but this week the focus is on one particular player who has taken to the new manager like a David Moyes to making excuses about getting bad refereeing decisions. Séamus Coleman has excelled under the Spaniard’s regime, scoring freely and helping Everton maintain the second-tightest defence in the Premier League.
Coleman, one of David Moyes’ better signings, was plucked for £60k from the League of Ireland’s Sligo Rovers in January 2009 when he was just 20. He spent his first months adjusting to life in the north of England – the bad weather; the gruff northern-ness; the love of chip shops – which actually sounds a lot like Sligo.
He got up and running in Everton’s reserves, and made his first team debut for Everton’s 5-0 away loss against Benfica in the artist formally known as UEFA Cup that October. Nice timing. His home debut arrived in more fortunate circumstances; he came on at half time to replace Joseph Yobo in a 2-2 draw with Spurs, played a part in both of Everton’s goals and was named Man of the Match.
He was loaned out to Blackpool the following March. He expected to stay by the seaside for a month, but ended up staying until the end of the Championship season, and featured in the play-off final, which saw Ian Holloway’s side secure promotion. Under Holloway, he gained valuable experience of playing in a high octane league. And also making up ridiculous metaphors. Upon returning to Merseyside, he became a firm fixture in Moyes’ Everton and scored four goals. He played on the right of midfield, with famously goalless club stalwart Tony Hibbert filling his preferred right-back slot.
Coleman pinned down the full-back position over the next two seasons, but the downside was an increased defensive focus in a mostly solid Everton side, and therefore, a more restricted role. Since that 4-goal season in 2010/11, he hadn’t scored once in the league until David Moyes left for the colder climates of Sir Alex Ferguson’s shadow.
Under Martinez, the Toffees haven’t given an inch of that defensive solidity away. In fact, they’ve massively improved their clean sheet record. They managed:
- eight shutouts in 20 games to date this season (vs 11 in 38 in 2012/13)
- to be second only to Arsenal in the league’s stingiest defences table
Coleman especially, has been given licence to roam pretty much wherever he pleases; freedom which has worked wonders for his individual form and for the team as a whole.
While Romelu Lukaku tops Everton’s scoring charts this season with 9, the right-back is in a surprising second place. Coleman has scored 5 and assisted 1 of Everton’s 19 goals so far, which represents a direct contribution of a little under 32%. To put that figure into context, last year, Leighton Baines supplied 5 assists and scored 5 goals, which amounted to 18% of Everton’s end-of-season goal tally, and was by far the greatest contribution of any Premier League full-back in 2012/13. That said, Baines’ total was augmented by his status as a set-piece maestro. By contrast, Coleman’s goals have all come from open play.
If the Donegal native keeps this kind of form up, he’ll exceed some of the most influential full-backs of the Premier League era – including John Arne Riise, who scored or assisted 25% of Liverpool’s goals in 2004/05 and led the league with terrible bleached ginger hair for much of the naughties. He would even outshine Roberto Carlos, whose 5 goals and 6 assists in 2005/06 only amounted to 16% of Real Madrid’s league goals total that year. It’s been a while since an Irish defender could be mentioned in the same breath as a legend like Roberto Carlos (Paul McShane’s valiant efforts aside), but that’s how good Coleman has been, and he still hasn’t hit the prime of his life. Hopefully.
His ardent attacking nature hasn’t come at a cost to his defending, either. Even as early as August, Martinez was at pains to point this out:
We know Seamus is an attacking full back who can give you a lot in the final third. I’ve been very pleased with the other side of his game, though. The way he has been defending and keeping the other balance of the team.
Coleman has since conceded two penalties (one of which was this softie against Manchester City), but the statistics generally support the manager’s view. He has attempted 54 tackles so far this season, compared with 62 last year in six more games. The WAGS lurking in the nightclubs have clearly given him a keen eye for dangerous situations and those instincts have seen him make 35 interceptions; a figure surpassed only by Sylvain Distin amongst his teammates.
The grass is looking greener
Coleman’s sensational form is something Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane will be keeping an eye on. The 25-year old has already emphatically established himself as Ireland’s first choice right-back and now he’s the highest scoring Irishman in the Premier League. Hull City’s Robbie Brady, and West Brom’s Shane Long only have 3 goals apiece. Thus, the challenge for the new Ireland motley management crew is getting the best out of Coleman, and with his performances linked to a very attacking, fluid mentality, that could spell some wholesale changes.
His fellow Toffees, James McCarthy and Darron Gibson, will be hotly tipped to make the new management’s favoured starting XI. They could be joined at Finch Farm by the exiled Aiden McGeady, who is expected to sign for Everton and return to the British Isles following a decidedly odd stint hovering up cash at Spartak Moscow. That makes at least four players finely tuned to Martinez’s exceptionally enjoyable and effective Everton style of football – a stark change from Ireland’s old mish-mash of hoofers, spoofers and relegation-zone strugglers. This should give O’Neill plenty to think about when it comes to designing the Boys in Green’s next incarnation.
Both Everton and Ireland supporters will be praying that Coleman’s purple patch continues. European football is well within Everton’s reach, and Champions League experience would put their Irish contingent head and shoulders above the rest of those in competition for places in O’Neill’s squad for Euro 2016 qualification. By the time that tournament rolls around, Coleman will be 27 and, hopefully, only just hitting his peak. The future is bright.