Seamus Coleman could pay the price for his loyalty to Everton
The Irishman has been an example of loyalty in modern football, but Everton are unlikely to take a similar stance.
Seamus Coleman was substituted on Saturday afternoon as Everton lost 3-1 away to Manchester City. On the surface, a player getting taken off in a loss to the Premier League champions is hardly noteworthy.
But this felt significant for Coleman.
The Republic of Ireland captain was substituted for Theo Walcott with 57 minutes gone in the game. Coleman has been substituted three times over the last three years and each time it was an enforced change because the full-back was injured.
He wasn't injured on Saturday though, Everton boss Marco Silva simply made a tactical change to try to improve his team. The stand-in Toffees' captain appears to have become disposable and it was difficult to argue against his substitution.
Coleman had very little impact on the game, particularly in comparison with Lucas Digne, Everton's other full-back, who was often the team's main attacking outlet, as his Irish teammate was a few seasons ago.
Coleman was playing as a wing-back in a back-three though, something he has rarely done at club level. And he wasn't the team's worst performer on the day.
Yet, there is no denying he could have done more to prevent City's second goal.
He hesitated and failed to close down Leroy Sane, who had time to steady himself and pick out Gabriel Jesus with a cross for the home side to double their lead. Seven minutes later, Coleman was taken off.
This under-par display followed a difficult night against Watford in the 2-2 draw last Monday at Goodison Park.
Coleman was at the heart of both of Watford's goals, scoring an own-goal before getting caught out as Abdoulaye Doucoure out-jumped him to score with a header.
He also struggled against Anthony Martial at Old Trafford in a 2-1 loss at the end of October. However, that was mainly because Theo Walcott offered very little defensive cover for his teammate and still doesn't seem to understand how to do so after all these years.
Yet, Coleman appeared to be the one at fault in the eyes of some Everton supporters.
He has been a fan favourite and he is a model professional. But the reaction online to his displays from Everton fans has been telling.
Many have been critical of the full-back's performances, with several calling for the club to sign a replacement.
It appears Coleman is aware of the criticism this season. He celebrated wildly and gestured towards the fans at Goodison Park after scoring against Brighton at the start of November.
The Irishman has the ability and mental strength to deal with this and improve. There have also been several mitigating circumstances for his form, the most obvious of which is the dreadful double-leg break he suffered in March 2017.
He only returned to first-team football back in January. Such an injury would have ended the career of a lesser player than the Donegal-native.
There has also been an upheaval at club level. Silva is Everton's fourth different manager in the past four seasons. Each coach had a different view on how their teams should play and what they ask of their players.
The Toffees are a completely different side this season than they were last year under Sam Allardyce and Ronald Koeman. This can't be an easy situation for a player returning from a serious injury.
Of the players that started the last Everton match before Coleman broke his leg, a 4-0 win over Hull City in March 2017, only the Irishman also started the game against Man City on Saturday.
Everton have completely overhauled their squad and have bought new players in almost every position.
Coleman is the veteran in the side, the one remaining player from David Moyes' time and the last of the club stalwarts, such as Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines, to still start.
This suggests that Silva and the club still have faith in him, and rightly so. Between 2013 and 2017, he was among the best players in his position in the Premier League. Arguably the best right-back in the English top-flight.
He was voted into the PFA Team of the Season for the 2013/14 campaign and his performances rarely dipped. At his best, he's a perfect fit for Silva's team. He could very easily turn his form around and prove the doubters wrong and few would bet against himself doing so. He only turned 30 in October.
But Everton's transfer activity also shows that they can and will replace Coleman if they feel they have to. He is the last of the old guard - which may partly explain why Everton fans have been on his back - and he could be the next one that they try to upgrade.
If it comes to that, the Irishman will be taught a very harsh lesson.
"There was interest from numerous clubs but I never looked for a way out," Coleman said in November when asked by reporters in Dublin if there was ever an opportunity to leave Goodison Park.
"Everton took a chance by signing me from Sligo Rovers. Loyalty is not really a thing anymore in football, but I feel Everton have done a lot for me."
Coleman's view is extremely admirable. He is happy at the club and has opted to stay true to himself rather than sacrifice his principles in search of a more lucrative financial offer elsewhere.
But will Everton adopt a similar approach if his form doesn't improve?
Will they remain "loyal" to a dedicated player who loves the club, a model professional who represents Everton with great distinction and has been among the best players in the country in his position over a significant period of time?
Of course not, they'll buy another player and move him on. That's the stark reality of professional football in the world's most competitive and richest league. It's also why players should put their own interests first.
— Conán Doherty (@ConanDoherty) November 13, 2016
Coleman is right, loyalty isn't "a thing" in football anymore, but with good reason, as his current predicament shows. He should have ended up at a Champions League club, instead, there are now questions over whether he's still good enough to play for a top eight team.
On the same weekend that the Irishman was substituted against Man City, Manchester United started Diogo Dalot, a rookie, at right wing-back and Ashley Young, a converted winger, on the left side. They also gave Chris Smalling a new four-year contract.
Coleman would still walk into United's starting XI, yet some Evertonians don't appear to think he's still good enough for their team. This is where "loyalty" gets you in professional football.