From almost entirely off the radar to hanging above the Atlantic, on the way to his medical as Liverpool's newest signing, the capture of Sebastian Coates has been as sudden and unexpected as transfers get. Behind the scenes Liverpool will have been working on the move for some time, with rumours that the club began closely tracking the player just prior to the summer's Copa America. But with endless talk of Phil Jones, Scott Dann, and Gary Cahill as possible targets for a club looking to bolster its backline, this wasn't a transfer anyone had been expecting.
Already Nacional, the player's former club, has announced Coates' sale and given a proper send-off to the young star who spent the past nine years working his way through the academy and then leading his boyhood team to back-to-back league titles. He was also caught by a reporter at Carrasco International Airport as he prepared for his flight to England, where he talked of both his sadness at leaving Nacional and the honour of joining Liverpool, as well as admitting he isn't likely to be given quite as boisterous a reception as attacking countryman and friend Luis Suarez was. He also confirmed having refused to move when presented with an earlier offer for a higher fee from Europe—a previously rumoured approach by Ukraine's FK Dnipro—hoping the interest he had received from England would eventually result in a formal offer.
Now that interest has come from Liverpool, and while nobody expects it to be a long-term problem, some questions about the potential difficulty of Coates receiving a work permit to play in England do remain. Already, though, there are rumours that the 20-year-old having won young player of the tournament at the Copa America, player of the season last year in Uruguay, and defender of the season the past two years has been enough for his new club to secure a permit without a lengthy appeal. And even if those rumours turn out to be false, one still would not expect an especially lengthy delay.
As for the player Liverpool is getting, Coates has been a key figure for Nacional, Uruguay's biggest club side, for two and a half seasons. While that won't have put him up against competition on par with what he'll see in the Premier League, he's also anchored their backline deep into three Copa Libertadores competitions, the South American equivalent of the Champions League. And of course there was his confident, at times even dominating, display at the just concluded Copa America won by Uruguay. In the end, though, even if he's achieved all he likely could have at his current level, he's still a 20-year-old kid making an awfully big move a long way from home and straight into the thick of one of Europe's big three leagues, and expecting him to instantly become the club's first choice—or expecting that he will never make youthful errors—would be the height of folly.
At 6'5" or 6'6", depending on reports, he's going to immediately compete with Andy Carroll for title of Liverpool's most physically imposing presence, and for club and country he's been a dominating force in the penalty areas at both ends of the pitch. While he won't go down as one of the fastest payers in his new league, he is surprisingly quick for his size, showing a good burst of speed and uncommon agility for a big man. Also, as one would expect of a player from South America, he will try to play the ball out of defense as much as possible, a positive given the style of play Liverpool hopes to embrace but one that has led to him being caught in possession on occasion as he continues to learn.
Typically a player like Coates would have been snatched up by a club in Portugal or the Netherlands and given a few years to develop before being sold on for three or four times his initial fee. Unsurprisingly, then, before his strong showing at the summer's Copa America drove his price up it was rumoured Porto—a club well known for picking up gems from their steady trade in South American talent—was after him in the €4M range, along with Brazilian side Sao Paulo. After taking home young player of the tournament, though, and with buzz that Coates was well on his way towards establishing himself as the best South American defender of his generation, someone who would be a dominating force across the coming decade, dollar signs lit up in Nacional's eyes. It also led to interest from Italy, from Manchester City in England, and from the aforementioned FK Dnipro.
In the end, however, Liverpool is the side that pulled the trigger, with the club set to pay in the neighbourhood of £7M for the defender. It's a fair cry higher than he would have sold for before the Copa America—in fact a record sale for a Uruguayan side—but far lower than what Nacional had hoped to get after the his stock rose. It's also far cheaper than Liverpool could have hoped to get him for down the road had he gone to a club like Porto to further develop in one of Europe's second-tier leagues.
And while it might be fair to say that Uruguayan players have become the proverbial flavour of the month on the back of victory in the Copa America and an unexpectedly strong showing at last summer's World Cup, it's equally fair to point out that Liverpool hasn't now picked up just any two Uruguayans. Instead they managed to snare the man who is inarguably that country's best attacking threat in Luis Suarez, and have now managed to capture Uruguay's top defender at the Copa America, a player most who follow the region expect will anchor his national side's defense through the next two or three World Cups.
Still, he is young, and despite the experience in his homeland he isn't the finished product just yet. But instead of watching him go to a continental side to finish that development Liverpool has decided he's worth the gamble right now, believing he can play a role in the present while developing into the long-term defensive anchor the club needs over the next few years. Perhaps he isn't the ready-made, top-four calibre centre half some would have hoped for, then, but in a way his acquisition is all the more exciting for it.
By RedNigerian via FootyLounge