November 25th, 2014

Reds missed out on deal for Coleman

John AldridgeBy John Aldridge

If Rafael Benitez had been a little more open-minded during his latter years as Liverpool manager, Seamus Coleman could be wearing a red shirt at Anfield now.

Back in my days as Tranmere manager, Liverpool-born Paul Cook was one of the players in my squad.

He went on to manage Sligo Rovers during a period when a young Coleman emerged through the ranks and started to make a name for himself in the League of Ireland.

Paul knew this kid was top drawer and he rang some contacts at Liverpool and tried to encourage them to take a look at Coleman. However, Benitez (inset, top) rejected his advances and said he wasn’t interested. What a mistake that proved to be.

Everton stepped in with an offer of just £60,000 to sign Coleman and he has now established himself, in my eyes at least, as the best full-back in the Premier League this season.

Every time I see him, I can’t help but lament what might have been for Liverpool.

At a time when my old club are crying out for quality attacking full-backs, we only have to look across Stanley Park to see who could, and should, be doing that job.

Coleman impressed me from the moment I saw him, as he hit the ground running in his breakthrough season with Everton. What a shame Benitez didn’t bother to have a look at him, as he might well have come to a similar conclusion.

Here is a boy oozing with enthusiasm, pace and drive, a young man who has always looked hungry to make it as a Premier League player. 

He looks like a lad who has got a big heart, someone who will run through a brick wall for you.

I can also tell you that he seems to be a very nice young man. I’ve been fortunate to bump into Seamus on flights from Dublin to Liverpool in the last couple of years. He’s a down-to-earth guy, who does not appear to have allowed his success to go to his head. 

On the field, he is thriving this season under a manager who encourages his full-backs to get forward and demands width in his team. Roberto Martinez is helping to make Coleman look more like a multi-million pound talent with each passing week.

Some have even suggested that he has the potential to develop along the path Gareth Bale (inset, bottom) has followed in recent years, with his progression from promising full-back into a world-class winger Real Madrid paid £86m for last summer an example of what can happen.

Now I would never wish to suggest Coleman could be another Bale, but there is a chance that he could have a very bright future in the game and there is no reason why he has to restrict his ambitions to a full-back slot.

I don’t know whether Seamus has ambitions to play as a winger, but that’s certainly something Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill could consider, especially away from home in the Euro 2016 qualifiers coming up later this year.

It may be that Ireland need to deploy an out-and-out defender in the right-back slot for some games, when we are likely to come under pressure and need to keep things tight.

In that scenario, Coleman’s attacking instincts would be diluted, which would be a shame. 

We need to get the best out of this wonderfully talented player in the attacking third if at all possible, and that’s something O’Neill needs to consider.

Why not think about using Coleman’s pace on the right wing, with his defensive nous an extra string to his bow if he is given license to break forward and frighten the life out of opponents, while scoring a few goals as well? It could be a great card for O’Neill to play.

Coleman’s rise to the top confirms that there are talented players in Ireland who are probably not getting their chance at English clubs because of the blinkered views of people like Benitez, who only tend to deal with certain agents and don’t spread their net wide enough.

My hope is that Seamus’s success is highlighting the fact that for a small investment, multi-million pound stars can be found playing in our great country and maybe more clubs in England will realise as much in the years to come.

One thing we can say is Ireland are lucky to have Coleman at their disposal and while we have not seen the very best of him yet on the international stage, that time is coming.