Coleman must finish season on a high to get Poland nod from Trap
MISSING Tuesday night's crucial FA Cup win over Sunderland just about summed up Seamus Coleman's season. For the Donegal native, it's been a campaign of hard knocks.
He is in danger of becoming the forgotten man on the road to Euro 2012. While the clamour grows for the inclusion of James McClean in Giovanni Trapattoni's squad for this summer's extravaganza, the reality is that Coleman will definitely miss out if McClean gets the nod.
It's quite a turnaround, considering that 12 months ago, the ex-Sligo star was the name on everybody's lips, the breakthrough player who was providing hope for Irish football's future. This term, he has scarcely figured in such conversations, and he will be praying that his absence from a strong Everton performance in the North-East doesn't cost him a Wembley chance later this month.
By contrast, his new colleague, Darron Gibson, is certain of his berth for both club and country.
Coleman desperately needs to do something special to remind Trapattoni of his ability. After sustaining a serious ankle injury on the eve of the season, it's been a stop-start eight months for the affable 23-year-old.
Last season, he was shortlisted by his peers for the PFA Young Player of the Year gong. Now, opposition teams seem to know plenty about the former surprise package. They've learned how to neutralise him in a position that he only started to learn upon his move to England.
A crossroads is approaching. Last summer, David Moyes said that he was keen to try Coleman at right-back, the position he developed in for Sligo Rovers and subsequently in a loan stint with Blackpool. He is yet to be given a full chance at Premier League level in that role, save for the odd mid-game cameo. There are trust issues.
Everton legend Kevin Ratcliffe touched on it while speaking on the radio about Coleman during the week. The feeling is that Coleman's impetuous qualities -- which added to his midfield performances -- could be unwelcome at the other end of the park.
"I can't see him as a right-back," Ratcliffe said. "If he's going to be a right-back, he's got to be a better defender. He commits too many fouls and he's liable to give a penalty away.
"Defending-wise you've got to be a little cuter these days. He can improve, and he looks as if he wants to learn.
"I don't think he's got a trick in his locker (as a wide midfielder), but what he's got is plenty of heart. He doesn't have that little bit of trickery."
It's not exactly the most flattering description. The underlying suggestion is that Coleman is stuck in an awkward position. He needs to develop in the position that suits him best, but his managers lack the real confidence to locate him there.
Certainly, Trapattoni has, like Moyes, spoken many times about his desire to one day try the player out on the right of defence. Contrary to popular perception, the Italian doesn't actually mind if his full-backs get forward and overlap, provided they have the energy to get back. He is very keen to see what Coleman can do in that slot, but has justified not doing so by pointing to Moyes' reluctance.
It means Coleman is vulnerable when it comes to the Poland crunch. Trapattoni has said that when it comes to finalising his 23-man selection, preference will be given to those players who cover more than one position. In an Irish context, he has only ever been tried in one role -- in right midfield -- and only in friendly matches. He is still to make his competitive debut.
While he has skipped ahead of Liam Lawrence in the pecking order, he must be worried when the Irish manager speaks about Jonathan Walters and Simon Cox being effective back-up for the wide positions.
Coleman's best chance of being on the plane is if Trapattoni considers him as the alternative option on the right side of the park -- if Walters, Cox and, significantly, Stephen Hunt and Keith Fahey are considered to have that base covered, then it's hard to construct a case for his involvement. And that's before you bring McClean into it.
Coleman's best performance in an Irish shirt came last June, the friendly win over Italy in Liege where he looked to have finally grasped the finer points of Trapattoni's chosen system. It was deeply unfortunate that he sustained a setback two months later when he might have built the momentum to figure in the qualification run-in. But the worry is that his contribution in Belgium is filed under the heading of his explosive 2010/11 campaign.
"People are getting to know him," said Ratcliffe. "They work you out. Initially, you have the surprise element, but people know what he's about now. He has dipped, but then again, he's had a bit of an injury. While he's not hit the form he did last season, he's still an important member of the Everton squad."
A pivotal fortnight lies ahead. He will have to prove to Moyes that he deserves a recall for the Merseyside derby in London on April 14.
And then it's about showing Trapattoni that his spark can genuinely make a difference on a big day. Otherwise, it could be time to book the summer holidays.