Seamus Coleman: I'd have sacrificed my other knee to ensure Everton stayed up
‘I would have sacrificed my other knee if someone had said 'Listen, the club will stay up' - that was all that concerned me that night and the weeks after.’
Had almost any other player said that, you’d have laughed in his face. You know, though, that Seamus Coleman was deadly serious about his beloved Everton.
The captain of the Toffees and Republic of Ireland had suffered what he feared might be a career-ending injury back in May, but his thoughts were on his club’s future, not his own.
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The Donegal man has spent more than 14 years on Everton’s books, since signing for around £60,000 from Sligo Rovers in January 2009 and became club captain four years ago.
When he went down injured against fellow strugglers Leicester City, the 34-year-old admitted he thought his playing career might be over for good, not just his season.
Certainly his time at Goodison could have been coming to an end, as his contract expired in June.
'I love this football club'
Coleman admits he took a little time to decide to sign an extension, but insists he never seriously considered leaving Everton:
“No. I wasn’t thinking of ‘Where to next?’ We’d just had two very hard, draining seasons. It’s tough when you live and breathe it. I just had some thinking time.
“Ultimately, in the back of my mind, I love this football club. I love playing football for starters and as long as I feel able I thought to myself ‘You’ve got to give it another go.’
“I’m happy that I did and recovered well. It was more a case of two seasons being tough and needing another a little breather before committing straight away.”
Going back to May, though, he was in a far less positive frame of mind: “Without a shadow of a doubt I was thinking ‘This is really bad.’ To be honest, if you saw me coming off the pitch that night… I came off when I broke my leg, my head was down. There was no reaction from me.
“But coming off the pitch that night, I was more concerned about that we had four games left and we were in big trouble here. What can I do to help the team? I tried to lift the fans anyway I could because I did think that was me that night in terms of the rest of the season.
“Going forward, I thought I'd done everything in my knee, my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament], my MCL [medial cruciate ligament], the whole works. At my age it would have been difficult to come back from that so I did fear the worst.
“To be honest, I was still more concerned about the team over the next few weeks rather than myself. I didn't really think of myself until the season finished and then I probably focused on my rehab again. When you're living and breathing what we have been the last few years, it's been quite tough.”
'You have to perform to get plaudits'
Everton stayed up, just, but the club remains in turmoil, with changes at boardroom level and delays in securing much-needed new investment, both for players and to complete the new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock.
However, Coleman backed Blues fans’ right to protest and express their unhappiness when the team under-performs, saying:
“You’re playing at a high level for such a big football club. It always interests me this about the supporters – our supporters are unbelievable, they’re incredible supporters. But if you don’t play well, don’t perform, you’re not going to get a tap on the back on the way off, and you shouldn’t expect that.
“You want the pressure of playing for this football club. They [the supporters] have got certain demands from you. They’ll back you 100 per cent if they see you giving that. I think we have got to understand that you have to perform to get plaudits.”
Having said that, Coleman hopes that manager Sean Dyche will be able to make good signings before the transfer window closes at the end of this month:
“Of course he needs tools to work with. He’s trying to put his stamp on things and he needs help with that, of course he does.
“I’ll always say that if we’re going to be getting player in it has to be the right type of character, the right type of person to play for Everton Football Club because, when you’re in it, it’s a tougher place to play than people think.
“That’s a positive, because you know you’re playing at a big club and there’s pressure to perform. In the last couple of years we haven’t done that enough.
“The manager, of course, will have players that he’ll want to bring in and I’m sure they will be the right type of characters, in his image – hard work and committed to players.”
'We have to bounce back straight away'
Everton have lost their first two matches – unluckily at home to Fulham, 1-0, but then thrashed 4-0 at Aston Villa last weekend.
Coleman remains out of first team action until at least October, but he is adamant that the Toffees must pick up at least a point when Wolves visit on Saturday:
“We have to bounce back straight away. People talk about fear of relegation. For me you have to fear it because the Premier League doesn’t stand around and wait for anyone.
“We’re only two games in, of course. Fulham game I thought we should have won, I know we didn’t. I thought we created enough chances. We’ve got to make sure at Goodison, and away from home too, you’ve got no God-given right to stay in this League, or no God-given right to get three points.
“We are where we are after two games. So there’s no pressing panic buttons yet but there’s an understanding how tough the last two seasons were, and how important the games are that you need to win, the teams that are (likely to be) around you at the end of the season as well, you need to get as many points against them.”
'I still have that fire'
His desire is as strong as ever to maintain Everton’s proud status as the club with the second longest say in the English top flight, after Arsenal.
That obviously involves him staying with the Blues, who rewarded his own loyalty, experience, and ability with a one-year contract extension in late June:
“The thoughts that were going through my head, it's very hard to tell you right now, the main one was that I wanted the lads to stay up…
“The contract situation is something that had been talked about earlier in the couple of months previous. For me, I had no other distraction but I'm sure you know me at this stage, when you're here as long as I've been here: Every day, the thought was ‘How can we get out of this [relegation battle] and keep improving?’
“In terms of the contract, I didn't want to think about it or talk about it until the job was done but when the job was done, obviously, I was injured and had some thinking to do.
“More thinking than I've done over the last few contracts because of the last few seasons but ultimately, as I said a few weeks ago, it's hard to walk away from something you love and I do love what I do and I still have that fire, that burning desire to get back.
“I think towards the end of last season if wingers were skipping past me or lads were skipping past me in training then 'I'm not going to sign here, it's not for me', but I still felt very good and very strong against some good opponents.”
Having decided to stay at Everton, Coleman’s next aim is to play for them again, and he’s confident he’ll do so before the end of October:
“I'd imagine if it was worse, and a year-long injury, it would have been tough to rehab. Not so much that I wouldn't do it, of course I would have done it but I'd have been 35, nearly 36 by the time you're getting back, it would have been a lot of weighing up to do - but thankfully and surprisingly, it was still a significant injury but not one that was career-threatening, thank God.”
Seamus Coleman, Republic of Ireland captain and father of three, was speaking as he launched SPAR’s Better Choices Back to School campaign, which aims to give a helping hand to the next generation when it comes to learning about healthy food and healthy lifestyles.
The SPAR Better Choices Little Chefs’ recipes can be found on www.spar.ie , with details of how to enter the competition on SPAR’s Facebook page @SPARIreland and Instagram page @SPAR_Ireland