Last night for a brief moment Jonathan Walters made Liverpool's Sebastián Coates look distinctly average. With Walters bearing down on him, deep inside his own half, the Uruguayan international hesitated on the touchline with the ball. Several failed attempts to jink past the striker later, and a particularly lack lustre effort at a clearance and Liverpool were 1-0 down. It looked amateurish, it was clumsy and had seemingly provided Liverpool's hoards of pessimists with a new scapegoat. Move over Lucas Leiva, farewell Emilano Insua, we've got a new young, South American to spit venom at for 90 minutes every Saturday.
More astute minds fathomed that Coates had been trying anything not to give away a throw in, eschewing the English game's natural 'anywhere will do' approach, in fear of Stoke's carnival side-show, Rory Delap winding up and pitching a curveball into the heart of the reds' defence. For others, it brought back memories of Jamie Carragher, when in 2007 he was mugged in similar circumstances by Thierry Henry in the FA Cup Third Round at Anfield.
Despite the efforts of these discerning voices, and indeed by Coates himself, who's second half performance was exemplary, the knives were out. The 20 year old fell victim to the internet warrior:
'Dat Coates is s***. He needs to f*** off bak to d bench wer he belongs' quipped one such eloquent soul on Twitter, another contesting that 'i've only seen him twice... two big mistakes. S***'
How can we ignore a player of such clear pedigree (Best Young Player in Uruguay's victorious 2011 Copa America campaign), and write him off in only his second start for the club?
But, isn't that just the point? And are these people not the first to jump to the defense of Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel, after what can be described favourably as a 'mixed' start to the season?
Liverpool bought Coates in the summer for £8m fron Nacional, fending off interest from both Manchester City and Arsenal, the defender claimed it had been his Uruguayan compatriot Luis Suarez who convinced him to come to Anfield. "Luis told me about the history and the tradition of the club and now I feel very happy and excited to be here" he said on his presentation to the media. Earlier in the summer he and Suarez had been part of the Uruguayan side who had waltzed to victory in the Copa América, a tournament in which Coates scooped the 'Best Young Player' award and made his qualities known to a world audience.
An elegant, pacy defender, Coates showed an authority and confidence at the heart of Uruguay's defence, which was akin to that of a much more experienced player, and by the end of the tournament Nacional had slapped a price tag on his head, rumoured to be in the region of €20m. With the wizardry of Damien Comolli, and some gentle nudges from his pal Suarez, Liverpool seemed to have got themselves a relative bargain.
Glimpses of Coates' talents were on display in the second half of last night's game. Along with his gargantuan frame, he also posseses a deftness of touch which is severely lacking from Liverpool's defence in the absence of Daniel Agger, and his spacial awareness improved ten-fold from the first half debacle. However it was this incident, this mistake, which made this mornings papers, thankfully in footnote form, thanks to a Luis Suarez brace which saved his friend's blushes.
In 2007, when Carragher made a similar error he had the reputation of Istanbul behind him, he'd been the heart of Liverpool's defence for some years and was a hero to almost everyone inside Anfield. That is how he managed to avoid this sort of blinkered, and frankly boring, criticism. Who is to say Sebastián Coates won't rise into that sort of player though, and who's to say that he won't be a future Liverpool captain, of Carragher's ilk?
The importance of allowing a player time to settle in, before savaging them in the stands, and on the internet has come into sharp focus for Liverpool fan's recently with a lot of the Anfield faithful having to serve themselves a chunk of humble pie in relation to the rise of Lucas Leiva. In his first and second seasons Leiva was persona non grata at Anfield to many, and this fact was made known to him at any possible opportunity, more recently however, he has become a figurehead in Kenny Dalglish's midfield, and won the clubs player of the season award at the end of last term.
“We are delighted with the rewards he is getting on the pitch and if the fans can recognise what he is doing then that is obviously helpful to him” said Dalglish of Lucas recently, after awarding him the captaincy for Liverpool's friendly with Rangers. “He’s done his job fantastically well. He’s a really good professional and a good guy in and around the place."
It has taken Lucas Leiva four years to get to that stage at Liverpool, but with a defensive line that includes an injury prone Daniel Agger and an aging Jamie Carragher, Liverpool fans would hope that Sebastián Coates' turnaround in fortunes will come somewhat more rapidly.
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