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Premier League will test talented Coates

On the verge of joining Liverpool, Uruguay centre back Sebastian Coates was last seen on the pitch in Buenos Aires celebrating victory in the Copa America, and then accepting an award for the best young player of the tournament.

These are impressive credentials for a player who is not 21 until October.

Coates is shaping up as a potential future captain of his country but, assuming the deal goes through, the challenge he now faces at club level is very different, and is surely going to stretch the youngster with the gangling frame.

Tournament football is played to its own rhythm - look at Paraguay, beaten convincingly by Coates and his Uruguay team-mates in the final. They reached the decider without winning a single game.

Coates enjoyed a successful break-through tournament in the 2011 Copa America. Photo: Getty

In a competition where eight of the 12 teams make it through to the knock-out stage, the emphasis is on not being beaten. The 2011 Copa was a counter-attacking tournament, and part of Uruguay's success was that they read it so well.

In every game they played in last year's World Cup Uruguay had less possession than their opponents but more shots. During the Copa they made sure they pulled back still deeper, swapping striker Edinson Cavani for yet another hard working midfielder.

It was, then, a good tournament for a young centre-back to find his international feet.

Coates could defend deep, with Diego Perez and Egidio Arevalo Rios snapping into tackles in front of him - and the magnificent Diego Forlan-Luis Suarez partnership to win the game at the other end.

Coates is now about to team up with Suarez once more, but this time the circumstances are very different. Liverpool's quest is to win enough games to get into the top four, or even mount a title challenge.

It means that, if called upon, Coates will be asked to defend much higher up the field, with much less protection in front of him, in a context where everything is happening much more quickly than anything he has ever been used to in his young career.

It is a step up that proved far too big for a South American centre-back previously signed by Liverpool - Gabriel Paletta, who came to Anfield soon after helping Argentina win the 2005 World Youth Cup.

Paletta has gone on to prove himself in European football, coming back from a serious knee injury to enjoy a solid debut season in Italy with Parma. He is a strong, rugged defender - had he waited until now for a move to Liverpool he might have done better.

But as I argued in this space five years ago, swapping Banfield in the Argentine league for Liverpool in 2006 was dangerously premature.

In comparison, Coates would seem more prepared for the new demands he is about to face. Despite his age he has accumulated some interesting senior experience, as well as making his way through Uruguay's excellent youth ranks.

It was after shining for his country at Under-20 level at the start of 2009 that Coates was thrown into the deep end with Nacional, one of Uruguay's big two.

He made an immediate impression, and was a fixture in the side that year that became the first Uruguayan club in two decades to reach the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores.

Come the vital second leg at home to Estudiantes of Argentina, Coates made the crucial mistake, gifting an away goal after being caught in possession.

It was an unfortunate error, but also a great learning experience. There are no short cuts for young defenders. Mistakes are going to be made. In this case, Coates did not let it affect his momentum.

He has performed solidly through the club's two subsequent Libertadores campaigns, having responsibility thrust upon him and, without being a shouter, showing good leadership potential, organising things around him, keeping things simple and using his height to be a dominant figure in both penalty areas. He is much further down the road than Paletta was five years ago.

For all that, the step up he is taking is still a big one. For evidence, he need only look to the wildly differing fates in English football of his team-mates in the Uruguay attack.

Diego Forlan is a truly magnificent footballer - intelligent, audacious, unselfish, technically excellent. He could even speak good English when he crossed the Atlantic to join Manchester United.

But straight from Independiente in Argentina with no senior international experience, it was too much, too soon. At Old Trafford he could never get a regular run of games and he lost momentum and confidence - before going off to Spain and proving himself a truly world class player.

Suarez, on the other hand, arrived in the Premier League that vital few years later, having bedded in with Ajax and shown what he could do in a World Cup. He has lit up Liverpool from day one.

The one undoubted plus point about Sebastian Coates joining Liverpool now is that he will only have to face Suarez in training games.

Copyright - Tim Vickery - BBC

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