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Seamus Coleman is one of those peculiar footballers who, despite now being 30 years old, still feels like a youngster breaking onto the scene. In reality, he first broke into the Everton side almost a decade ago, but his characteristic lung-busting runs down the right flank still project the image of youth. He has experienced his fair share of tough professional battles though – most notably returning from a horrific leg break in January last year.
Gaelic football was Coleman’s first calling. At just 16 years old, he made his first appearance for local amateur side Na Cealla Beaga. Indeed, his ferocious style of play could well be partially attributed to the high tempo nature of his original sport. In 2006, however, he was snapped up by Sligo Rovers, making his professional debut against Derry City in October of that year.
Coleman’s first season with Rovers was tough, finding himself not favoured by manager Rob McDonald. Out went McDonald in 2007, though, and in came Paul Cook – a name familiar to fans of the English Football League, and a manager who saw potential in the youngster. After flourishing under Cook, Coleman made his move to Everton in 2009 at the bargain fee (with hindsight) of £60,000. He must surely go down as one of David Moyes’s most astute signings.
After a handful of appearances in his opening season for the club, Coleman was loaned to Blackpool in March 2010. Alongside Charlie Adam and Gary Taylor Fletcher, Coleman played a part in helping the Seasiders win promotion to Premier League via the playoffs. He started in their 3-2 Wembley victory over Cardiff that sealed promotion.
Having recently signed a new contract with the Toffees and helped a Championship side to promotion, the stage was well set for Coleman’s breakthrough season. And breakthrough he did.
Initially starting on the right of midfield, the young Irishman did plenty to impress the Everton faithful. His vigorous, attacking style of play is one that so often grabs the attention of fans. He made an average of 1.3 dribbles per game in his opening season. He played in 34 out of 38 Premier League games, finishing the season with 4 goals and 1 assist and was nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
With injuries and age creeping up on right back stalwart Tony Hibbert, Coleman was shifted back to the right side of defence in the 2012/13 season. It was in this position that he truly began to shine. His defensive aggressiveness and prowess stood out as he managed 2.4 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per game. This was coupled with his drive going forwards, a feature which continued to characterise his game even as he was positioned further back. This blend defensive aggression and attacking tenacity made him a pioneer of modern full backs in Britain and Ireland. In a region where concepts of modernity have often proven difficult to grasp, Coleman is a player who has helped thrust his position into the modern era.
The 2013/14 season was when Coleman truly starred. In a magnificent campaign in which he took up a spot in the PFA Team of the Year, the Irish full-back showed definitively his ability to merge defensive solidity with attacking prowess. He made 1.8 dribbles per game, while the average for a Premier League full back at the time was around 0.8. His passing completion rate, too, was excellent, completing 88.5% of his passes and creating 45 chances. A superb individual goal against Southampton was the pick of his 6 Premier League goals that season, another exceptionally high attacking figure for a full back. And while managing to excel so noticeably going forwards, Coleman also proved resolute at the back. He made an impressive 2 tackles per game as well as 1.3 interceptions.
One of the unique things about Coleman is his ability to so thoroughly cover the bases of attacking and defending. Modern full backs are so often seen as players who lack in defence, and the likes of Marcelo certainly reinforce that stereotype. But Coleman maintains his defensive stability. The power and strength that is so key to how he runs with the ball is also what proves to be an important part of his defending. He uses those skills to shrug off players when seeking to regain the ball and to aid him in the tackle. Seamus Coleman is most certainly an attacking full back, but one with a sense of balance.
The next few seasons saw Coleman continue to establish himself as one of the better right backs in the Premier League. In that time, he was also made captain of the Republic of Ireland national side, leading his team out in two games during Euro 2016. In 2017, however, he suffered a major injury setback playing for his country.
A challenge from Wales’s Neil Taylor saw Coleman left him with a badly broken right leg. His fibula and tibia had been fractured, a horrific injury that required surgery and kept him out for 9 months. He returned in January 2018 and gradually made his way back into the Everton side.
Coleman is now at an age where he is the one fending off competition from his younger contemporaries. Jonjoe Kenny has continued to pop up on the team sheet this season, while Mason Holgate has impressed on loan in the Championship with West Brom. The now experienced Irishman, though, continues to be Everton’s first choice. His role as an exemplary modern full back in British and Irish football should not be underestimated.