Sebastián Coates 22 Defender Liverpool
It’s eighteen months since the debate was opened, but opinion remained fairly divided among regular South American watchers last year. The question being considered was whether Sebastián Coates really was all that.
The tall defender had been a regular for Nacional for two years before he took to the field for his national team in the Copa America in 2011. With Brazil and Argentina, as is so often the case, hugely disappointing in South America’s showpiece international competition, Uruguay seized their opportunity and were worthy winners of an exciting tournament. While most attention centred on the potent threat posed by Forlan, Cavani and Suarez, the emergence of a 20 year old central defender who had only recently progressed to full international level was noteworthy.
Up until that point, Coates had been a steady player for his club, a good all-rounder with a nice touch, but nothing that could be quantified as exceptional. By the summer of 2011, Coates was not just a national hero, but had also been singled out as the best performing young player from a pool which also included Neymar. Invariably with such merited accreditation comes much interest and as by the time the tournament had closed, Coates was receiving a great deal of attention. With a keenness to pacify their most significant player, Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, and with the Comoli/Dalglish scattergun transfer policy still very much in place, Liverpool made their move and secured the signing of the Montevideo born centre back just over a year ago.
Based on the recent evidence of the Copa America itself, the move looked astute on the reds’ part. They had, amid stiff competition from a number of European sides, secured the services of a player that was now one of South America’s brightest stars. Nevertheless, many of the Nacional fans we spoke to couldn’t quite understand the fuss. Coates was popular, and there was a great deal of satisfaction in seeing one of their own do so well, but the general consensus was that Sebastian Coates was a world away from being the finished article. While technique was highlighted more than once as a positive, others were more scathing when referring to a lack of pace.
With a high transfer fee and a newly gained reputation, Coates didn’t see a huge amount of playing time under Kenny Dalglish as Liverpool stuttered their way through 2011/12. Four league starts were an always likely return for young defender adapting to life in another country.
Coates is a willing worker and possesses good technique for a defensive player but hasn’t really looked likely to force his way into Brendan Rodgers first XI on a regular basis. That’s a big ask of course, expectations are perpetually high at Anfield and in Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, Liverpool possess two excellent defenders.
And that may turn out to be the biggest issue for Sebastián Coates. At 22, he might have expected to be playing a little more regularly than he is, but first team starts have been restricted to Europa League and League Cup outings only this season. Both Skrtel and Agger have recently signed lengthy new contracts at Liverpool and while good quality backup is always needed at a top club, Coates lacks the experience, and perhaps the ability, to step straight into the shoes of more a recognisable name.
Coates can trap a ball, turn and dribble his way out of tight positions. He can pick out long and short range passes, but put him head to head with a forward possessing any level of swiftness and you’ll see a defender turned inside out. Pace isn’t everything for a centre back, we acknowledge that, but it is an important commodity for a defender hoping to hold down a regular place in any of Europe’s top divisions. Positioning can be a far more effective weapon, but obtaining the nous to know where and when to hit certain positions is something that tends to come with experience rather than being a natural gift. At present, Coates is devoid of pace and experience. The former is unlikely to ever arrive, the latter looks doubtful at present.
That’s not to say that Coates won’t turn out to be a player of some repute, he’s already shown that he can step up at international level, but to suggest that his career has done anything but stall badly would be unreasonable.
While we can aim criticism at the player, we’re witnessing a situation that has happened at Liverpool before. Last year we wondered quite why Danny Wilson hadn’t been sent back to Scotland on loan as soon as his transfer to Liverpool had been rubber stamped. Wilson looked a star in the making at Rangers so a big move was no surprise, but a brief loan spell at Blackpool is the only first team football he has enjoyed in over two years.
Liverpool fans will also recall their club completing the signing of Gabriel Paletta from Banfield amid much hype in the mid noughties. While Paletta suffered injury problems at Anfield, the move looked too big a step and it took a return to Argentina with Boca for a highly rated player to find his feet over the course of three years. He is now an accomplished defender, performing regularly for Parma in Serie A and looking very much the type of player that Liverpool could use should injuries or loss of form affect their incumbent backline.
And there lies the catch 22. Coates has potential, but it needs to be coaxed out over a period of time playing first team football. Liverpool were right to take a punt, but having gained his signature, they now have a player that lacks the experience they will need should the aforementioned injuries or loss of form occur to first choice players.
"Wonderful technique, we've all seen *that* goal, but is that going to be enough for Liverpool?" - Jeff Livingstone (IBWM)
D Unless drafted to replace an injured colleague, the next year doesn’t look promising