Why Seamus Coleman turned down Arsenal to stay at Everton

Why Seamus Coleman turned down Arsenal to stay at Everton

IN February 2007, Seamus Coleman’s career was on the line.

Sligo Rovers had yet again changed manager and the new guy wasn’t impressed by what he had inherited. So Rob MacDonald placed six men on the transfer list — including a 19-year-old right back, who seven years later would sign a five-year-contract worth £75,000 a week.

So when people wonder why Coleman opted to stay with Everton rather than move to Arsenal this summer, all they have to do is think back to his 2007 winter of discontent. He was unknown then, earning €300-a-week, living an hour away from home in rented accommodation with four other footballers and — for two weeks — living in fear.

Returning to Killybegs as a reject played on his mind. So too did the pained reality of knowing he had forsaken a college career to chase his sporting dream. There and then, it wasn’t just his Sligo Rovers future that was at stake but his pride and his dreams.

That fortnight in limbo shaped Coleman like no other. And when MacDonald got sacked before the season even began, and his replacement Paul Cook spent his first training session praising Coleman to the hilt, a feeling of relief swept over him.

He could stay with Sligo, after all. The journey home with his tail between his legs could be avoided. This career he had embarked on could be prolonged. And most of all, he had learnt to count his blessings.

Seven years on, he is the same person but with a different persona. His face is instantly recognisable on Merseyside and his bank balance is so healthy that he no longer has to worry about the future. So why move? Why risk walking away from Goodison Park and a manager who believes in him to enter the unknown?

He’d been there before, remember, and hated every second of it. Those weeks worrying about what MacDonald thought of his game drained his confidence. He played the game because he loved it. But at that moment he was hating it.

“Those weeks shook me up,” he once said. “Without Paul Cook, I don’t even know where I would be.”

Emotionally, he is in a good place. First David Moyes helped him through the homesickness after his move from Sligo and then with his game.

“What I like about the club is the fact everyone treats everyone the same — from the coaching staff to the cleaning staff. No one is too big for their boots,” he said three months after joining in 2009.

“I’d love to do well here, would love to be playing every week but I know it is not going to happen without a lot of hard work.

“Ultimately, I’m realistic about the difficulties of breaking into the Everton side on a regular basis but I don’t just want to sit on the bench forever, either. At the minute, I’m delighted with my progress.”

He has progressed a hell of a lot since then to the point where last season he was voted the best right back in the Premier League, a prize which escaped him in the League of Ireland.

“I’m a bit of a slow burner,” said Coleman.

“That comes back to my background, the fact I was playing two sports up until I was 17 or 18. Obviously I missed out on a lot of the things — coaching and development things — which academy players in the country get.

“You see young lads playing in the Premier League now at the age of 17 or 18 and I was playing Gaelic football at that age. It’s crazy, thinking about me playing a different sport on a Saturday afternoon back then.

“But maybe the route I took was better for me. You see young lads, who have been at a top club since day one and it is all some have ever known. Perhaps they do take it for granted in some cases. I’m not criticising them but complacency is one thing you’ll never see me doing.

“I’m very grateful for what I have. I never drive through those gates [at Finch Farm] thinking training is a chore.

“I always remember I’m at Everton Football Club. I’m in the Premier League and I’ll never take it for granted. I’m sure people will read this and think ‘Oh here he goes saying this again’ but it’s the truth. I’m privileged to be where I am and I know that.”

He also knows how close he came to losing everything. So was it a shock when he said no to Arsenal? Far from it. A move to London equated to a potential return to limbo, the place he never wants to be in again.