These are Chris Coyne`s numbered days. The number five`s steady corrosion from new-age Iron Man into fragile mortality is the most alarming decline of the season. That`s sometimes what happens when you put athletes on a pedestal on a partisan whim: they crash ‘n` burn. Cue the boomerang of bad judgement, returning to hit you in the mouth.
Last August, the defender was hailed as standard-bearer for all things fresh about Colchester United: an Australian international of increasing repute would give his vintage years to the U`s as a leader. Captain Coyne`s mission was to steer the re-fashioned corporate ship in a direction that moved United from the alternative galaxy of Layer Road and into the real world.
That branding hasn`t worked. Not personally for Coyne, at least. He`s become the extra in his own career movie at domestic level, replaced as skipper by Dean Hammond. Coyne lost responsibility for on-field duties almost as soon as manager Paul Lambert arrived in the autumn. Now his title of club captain, a title of little meaning which he retains, rings hollow.
It`s a bad season when you stand more chance of selection for the national side than your club. Coyne`s five caps since June are a progression not mirrored in Essex, where he spends relatively more time in the treatment room than actually on the pitch. The mystery is that the 30-year-old has declared himself unfit for League One games on a number of occasions, only to suddenly fly the globe for World Cup qualifiers. He`s played just 19 times for United this term.
Coyne`s aim is South Africa 2010, but it is also his myopia. Talking last month, he admitted the distraction: “Any young kid that starts playing football would want the opportunity, but it is 18 months away and it’s something that would only cross your mind as it gets closer and closer.” Given his lack of action and repetitive comments in the media, you`d be forgiven for thinking that it is the only thing on his mind.
A transfer to Perth Glory, the chance to play alongside his brother, Jamie, in a newly founded league on alternative hemispheres beckons, then. Coyne keeps repeating the mantra that he will only go if his national boss tells him a step-down in the quality of football won`t jeopardise his national chances.
Soon he may not have a choice. Injuries and jetset-dotting have made him a liability for Lambert. That much was clear when Neil Trotman arrived on loan from Preston just as Chris was making a return to fitness, having played matches against Swindon and Crew. Today, even, as centre-back Matt Heath returns from a spell away with Brighton, competition for places increases further.
No fitness, and no hope of a recall. That`s the bleakest possible reading of Conye`s situation.
Few fans beg to differ. A poll on this website shows almost ninety percent of fans believe Coyne will leave England by the time the summer sun evaporates, even if he himself seems less sure. “It could be six weeks, or six months or six years, but I’ve got a box to tick and it’s something I’d like to do sooner rather than later.”
It will be interesting to see how many games Coyne merits between now and May. A new twist is that he travelled the globe for the last two Australia fixtures but ended both times an unused substitute. The cost of playing football for his country was his league starting-place; now he needs football to get back into the Australia team.
The longer Coyne spends in Colchester`s no-man`s land, of course, the more seductive those calls to come home will become.
Loss of his Socceroo spot hastens the inevitable. These, after fifteen years and four clubs in the UK, are Chris Coyne`s numbered days.
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