In what was a slow week for Premier League news, one of the few that caught the eye revolves around Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho following another fine performance for Brazil in last week’s 3-0 home win over Argentina.
Liverpool fans, of whom I am one, will have been reading with growing concern of stories emanating from the Catalan press of an imminent £65 million offer from Barcelona for Coutinho. That Europe’s big guns would be interested in the ‘little magician’ comes as no surprise given the general trajectory of his career to date and the acceleration of his form over the last year or so.
It used to be that every two or three games he would win the MoM award but now he is ‘doing it’ consistently every week. This is even more impressive given that he is a known threat and part of the opposing team’s strategy nowadays is to mark him out of the game.
With almost a third of the season gone Liverpool have stormed their way to the top of the Premiership in scintillating style and Coutinho is the key man in their breath-taking attacking quartet. With five goals and the same number of assists so far, he is on target to at least double, if not treble, his previous seasons’ bests of eight and seven respectively.
He is also doing it for Brazil. More or less ignored prior to Brazil’s 2014 World Cup campaign he was a major beneficiary of the team’s clear-out following their 7-1 loss to Germany and is now established in the first team, displacing Chelsea’s Willian in the process. His stats for 2016 are a handsome five goals scored in ten games, including a wonderful trademark effort from the edge of the box in last week’s game against Argentina. Since then the world has sat up and taken notice.
In truth he has been scoring these types of goals for a couple of seasons now. The injuries to Sturridge and the departures of Suarez and Sterling from the Fabulous 4 of the 2013-14 season has led to Coutinho, as the most senior member of the current quartet, having to accept more responsibility for Liverpool’s attacking play. He has done so with maturity both on and off the pitch.
From what we have seen so far, it would be a major surprise if Liverpool didn’t at least achieve a Champions League spot at the end of the season. More likely, however, is that they will contend for the prize they pine for more than any other, the Premier League title.
So we must assume that the choices facing Coutinho this summer, when a bid is most likely to be received, will be roughly this: he could lead a strengthened Liverpool into next year’s Champions League campaign, possibly for an era given the average age of the team…or he could move to Barcelona.
The attraction of the former option is not in any doubt and is helped by the fact that he seems happy and settled in Liverpool. The club could do more to improve his contract situation; he is reportedly in the £80k/week bracket (below Sturridge, Milner and Henderson) and will surely do so in light of interest from abroad.
Jurgen Klopp adds to the attraction of Liverpool too; he is a magnet of a manager that players will move clubs to play for. Raheem Sterling allegedly let it be known prior to his own departure from Liverpool of his unhappiness with former manager Brendan Rodgers and his desire to play for Klopp, he hoped, at Liverpool. The team, the fans and half the city have fallen in love with Klopp and he should not be underestimated as a counterweight to the attraction of Barcelona.
As for Barcelona, I’d assume the culture and climate would appeal to a South American, and Philippe could find himself lining up with good friends Suarez and Neymar alongside the incomparable Messi at the Nou Camp, a salivating prospect for any footballer. Playing for a club with realistic ambitions of winning the Champions League is another.
Whilst a move to Barcelona is an undeniably attractive proposition it might also present Coutinho with some problems. For starters, where would he play? Their front three of Messi, Neymar and Suarez are at the height of their powers and fairly settled. None are at an age where Barcelona might think about replacing them outright. So if Phillipe were to move, in all probability he would not be an automatic starter and at worst, an understudy to Messi. A move deeper into midfield has been touted but this could unbalance Barcelona and is not a position where he’d be most effective at, or I’d guess, happy.
Then there is the question of the competitiveness of La Liga and playing for one of the two teams that usually dominate it. I don’t know how much satisfaction can be derived from thrashing Sporting Gijon and Granada every week, it didn’t deter Ronaldo or Suarez from moving there, but the Game of Thrones at the Premiership will surely be missed.
The key to Coutinho’s next move lies in his age. At 24, Coutinho has plenty of time on his side and can afford to wait for an obvious vacancy to appear in Barcelona’s front line if that is where he wishes to go. Both Messi and Suarez will turn 30 next year, but realistically it might be a couple of years down the line or more before Barcelona might actively look to replace the two. By this time Coutinho will be 27, in his prime, and perhaps ready for a new challenge if that is what he wants. In the absence of guarantees over playing time, I feel any summer move for Coutinho is dead in the water.
It is worth noting that apart from a few understandable grumblings last summer over Liverpool’s direction of travel, Coutinho has never agitated for a move. The club’s barnstorming run to the top of the table this season will have put an end to any doubts, and the apparent progress made by Klopp will have changed the dynamics at the club.
For now, these are the beginning of exciting times at Liverpool, they look like they are going places. Almost certainly into the Champions League next season, Coutinho will be a key cog in this next adventure and I’m sure that he will want to be a part of this thing he has been so instrumental in creating. I will not be unduly worried about a 2017 summer departure; however, it is in the summer of 2018 when I will really start to fret.