Italy’s most capped player talks to Al Jazeera about football, retirement and his new role as Al Ahli ambassador.
|Seasoned international Peter Crouch will add to Stoke’s strike threat [GALLO/GETTY]|
Sebastian Coates and Peter Coates aren’t related, have never met and were born on different sides of the globe more than half a century apart. Yet the two namesakes were prominent as the end of the transfer window morphed into a return to English Premier League action.
Sebastian Coates (pronounced ‘Co-ar-tez’) is a towering central defender from Montevideo’s Club Nacional who was part of Uruguay’s Copa America winning team in July.
The 20-year-old has just linked up with international teammate Luis Suarez at Liverpool in a $11 million deal.
The Reds’ transformation under Kenny Dalglish is nearly complete. And with the likes of Christian Poulsen, Paul Konchesky, Milan Jovanovic and, most recently, Raul Meireles, being moved on, just a couple of recruits signed under the ill-fated Roy Hodgson era remain.
Sebastian Coates was an unused substitute as Liverpool fell to an unexpected 1-0 loss at Stoke City on Saturday with the Potters boasting a much stronger squad than before the international break a mere two weeks ago, thanks to the generosity of 73-year-old Peter Coates.
Rather eerily, he shares the same name as Sebastian Coates’ British father.
Stoke-born Coates, who’s in his second spell as owner of the oldest top-flight club, has splashed more than $30 million to bring in the Spurs duo of Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios plus former Birmingham striker Cameron Jerome. This follows the close season recruitment of England international defenders Jonathan Woodgate and Matthew Upson.
Stoke are in only their fourth season in the premiership and yet are showing more ambition than some of the so-called bigger clubs, including Everton and Newcastle United.
And on top of their solid domestic start to the season, they are also doing well in Europe, advancing effortlessly to the group stages of the Europa League.
It may sound like madness to compare Stoke with Liverpool, but the Potters’ hard-earned victory lifted them above the Reds on the table into the top-5 after four games.
Even before replenishing their ranks, Stoke had exceeded expectations with finishes of 13th, 11th and 12th since being promoted from England’s second tier in 2008.
Last season, they advanced to the first FA Cup final in their 148-year history, casting aside Bolton 5-0 in the semis on their way to Wembley and a narrow loss to big-spending Manchester City.
Now, Stoke’s biggest challenge is to change public opinion and stereotypes about their style of play.
|A Ryan Shawcross challenge last season left Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey seriously injured [GALLO/GETTY]|
As much as Arsenal has become an adjective for pretty passing and Manchester United a synonym for teamwork and stability, Stoke conjures images of long-throws, route-one football and leg-breaking tackles from uncompromising centre-backs.
The latter description may come from a February 2010 challenge from Ryan Shawcross at the Brittania Stadium that left Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey with a double compound fracture, sidelining him for nine months.
Midfielder Rory Delap, a former junior javelin exponent, creates havoc with his throw-ins and 22-year-old defender Ryan Shotton is another sideline maestro who uses arm-strength and technique to create scoring opportunities.
But now with seasoned internationals like Crouch, Woodgate, Upson and Palacios on-board to support flair players like Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant, Stoke have the possibility of making a sea change in their philosophy.
Remember in the early 1970s, Stoke were one of the entertainers of the English game, known for going on good cup runs, as they won the 1972 League Cup and made it to the semi-final stage of the 1970-71 and 1971-72 FA Cup.
It would be unfair to say that 2.01 metre tall Crouch will simply add to Stoke’s aerial threat, on the end of crosses and those laser-like long throws. In addition to a record of a goal every second game for England, the ex-Liverpool striker is actually more comfortable on the ground than in the air, with many of his assists coming from neat passes.
After Coates’ summer spending spree at Stoke, already comparisons have been made to another homegrown boy, Jack Walker, of Blackburn. In the early 1990s, the late industrialist spent $40 million on new players, including Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, to concoct an unlikely premiership title.
Today’s Blackburn are bank-rolled by Indian chicken giants Venky’s and yet are among the favourites for relegation under rookie manager Steve Kean.
By hinting last year at a top-6 finish and visions of Champions League football, Kean made the classic mistake of over-promising while under-delivering, which puts him in danger of being the first manager to be sacked this season.
Coates and Pulis are far too shrewd to make such outrageous predictions. But through a combination of their renowned feistiness at ‘Fortress Britannia’ and some recently-acquired finesse, the Potters can realistically aim for a top-10 finish.
That’s despite some of their squad looking more suited to bouncer duties at a local Staffordshire night spot – or contestants in a javelin qualifying competition for the 2012 London Olympics. But let’s try not to type-cast here.
Jason Dasey (www.jasondasey.com) is an Asia-based international sports broadcaster and host/executive producer of Kopi-O, a new football chat show for Singapore. Twitter: JasonDasey