06 January 2018

On Philippe Coutinho

Well, this sucks.

Well, this was expected, even if not for a few more months.

Yes, there's very little that makes sense about doing this deal in January.

It could completely mess up Liverpool's season. On the precipice of top-four going into January, into the knockout rounds of the Champions League for the first time since 2008-09. This is a more well-rounded team, a deeper team, than we've seen since 2008-09, but Coutinho has still been one of the stars. Salah's given him a run for his money this campaign, but Coutinho was Liverpool's player of the season in the previous two by some distance.

It doesn't even really help Barcelona this season, running away with La Liga and with Coutinho cup-tied for the Champions League. You're paying something like €15-20m more just so Iniesta can be rested for Europe? And Barcelona definitely need to sell or release players to balance the books, something I had assumed would happen before buying Coutinho.

But it is what it is. Coutinho really, really wanted to go to Barcelona. Barcelona really, really want him. As with Suarez, as with Mascherano, as with Alonso and Arbeloa, when South American or Iberian players hear from Barcelona or Real Madrid, they're gone. It's not just Liverpool players. See: Cristiano Ronaldo. It's not just Latin players. See: McManaman and Owen, Beckham, Bale. This is the football ecosystem that we live in, despite PSG and City's best efforts at the moment.

And this sucks.

It's hard to be sanguine about it now. It's hard to reminisce when the wound's still fresh. Nonetheless, what's your favorite Coutinho moment?

There are a lot to choose from. Only Henderson, Sturridge, and Flanagan (unfortunately, we're still counting him for now) have been with the club longer; only Henderson's made more Liverpool appearances. We've seen all-around performances, spectacular strikes, brilliant assists. Game-winning goals, game-winning assists, game-winning performances. You could make a hell of a montage just from this season so far.

But I'm going to pick one that most won't. I'm going to pick his first goal for Liverpool. A month shy of five years ago.

Look at that child. He's a hobbit. He's a baby. And he's scoring on his full debut. There's an immediate sign of his potential, cutting inside from the left, with the ball at his feet, with the ball in the back of the net. He was billed as a diminutive playmaker – which he very much was for his first few seasons, and still mainly is – but there was a sign of the goals to come. There was a sign of the player he'd become.

No more signs, signals, premonitions now. For better and for worse, he's all grown up.

Now, Coutinho is potential fulfilled. He is a player capable of the sublime and ridiculous. He is a player at the peak of his powers. He is capable of playing on the left flank, as a #10, and as a more orthodox central midfielder. He's truly dominated games since the end of last season, most notably 4-0 at West Ham in May and 7-0 v Spartak in December, two goals and an assist as a central midfielder in the former, a hat-trick as an outside left in the latter.

He is also a player who has mysteriously picked up injuries as soon as the last two transfer windows opened. He is a player who clearly does not want to be here.

You never want to see your club's best players sold, especially not in January, especially with Liverpool pushing for top four and still in the Champions League. But this is the world we live in. Players get the moves they want, eventually, whether it's Van Dijk to Liverpool, Coutinho to Barcelona, or Neymar to Paris St-Germain. Clubs can only do so much.

Yes, Liverpool could have done more, had they truly wanted. Liverpool could have held firm, as they did over the summer. Deal with his "injuries" this month, get the best out of him until May. What's he gonna do, sit out for five months in a World Cup year? My guess, the only that makes sense, is that Jürgen Klopp's seemingly sick to the teeth of this nonsense. Understandably so.

Between Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain, there's at least a modicum of depth in the position Coutinho usually plays. Woodburn, even though he's only 18 and has made just one substitute appearance in the League Cup this season, at least did it in preseason – although he had been rumored to go out on loan this month. Neither are as creative. Neither are as good, period.

As Southampton did with van Dijk, Liverpool have extorted an eye-watering fee. By all reports, €120m now, €40m more with add-ons far achievable than those proposed last summer. Barcelona's highest bid last summer was £82m up front with £36m more in insane add-ons. Liverpool stood firm in the summer, they got more money in January.

This is the second-highest transfer fee ever. It's the highest non-release clause fee. It is €20m more than any other Premier League player has been sold for, and that's before any add-ons come into effect. Coutinho is a very, very good player who is very, very important for Liverpool, but that's still absolutely insane money.

Liverpool have a lot of new money in the accounts as of right this damn second; van Dijk was supposedly budgeted for before this deal. The squad is a lot stronger now than had Coutinho left last season, or even late in the summer having had five months to coalesce both with and without him. But he will need to be replaced, ideally sooner rather than later. I trust that Liverpool have been planning for this day since August. I hope that, as has happened with past huge sales, that trust is not misplaced.

But those fears are for another day.

It's hard at the moment, but enjoy the fact that we got Coutinho's magic for nearly five years. There were growing pains. There was frustration. There were, notably, no trophies. But there was brilliance. There was fun. Football is much better when there's fun, and Coutinho provided an awful lot.

Remember that, rather than the drama over his exit.


Erik Sinn said...

Beautiful !

Scott B said...

1 step forward, 2 steps back. Always with this club. I'm seriously getting sick of this. I hope this massive gamble by our owners and Klopp pans out somehow. But I don't see how this does anything but hurt the club and our current top 4 and CL aspirations. I have no problems with players having other goals and us selling them for good value. But selling him now without replacement is stupid. And nothing I've seen this year gives me any confidence we can rely on any of our other squad players to step up and be consistently productive.

Julian said...

Mostly what I feel is disappointed. I'm supposed to be mad, but I don't feel mad. I wanted him to stay. I liked watching him in this team and this team with him in it. And now that's over.

I wish he hadn't done it this way. I wish he'd spent this year fucking destroying the Premier League and left on a high not and with fond farewells. But that not what he wanted, and he's a human being who wants what he wants for his own reasons. I don't begrudge him that. But I'm sad for what could have been.

I hope this doesn't take the spark out of this team, because it has been fun as hell to watch at times this season. I hope it can hit the same heights again. I hope it finishes top 4. I hope it scores for fun and embarrasses a few more teams. I also hope Philippe does well in Barcelona, because I can't find it in me to hate the little magician. Even if I'm supposed to.

Julian said...

PS thanks for writing. I've got no one else to talk about this with, so just thanks.

Julian said...

PPS, this goal https://goo.gl/images/jatwHi

Truc To said...

There is no like for like replacement for Coutinho in the current squad - maybe Silva and DeBruyne and Hazard are the only comps in the Premier League. I also think that like Suárez it is the wives who play a big part of the decision. I would love it if LfC bought Hispanic Latino single players and they got married to Scouse girls but that may be asking too much. Of course we will now be raped for a replacement transfer fee. We are Liverpool and we will prevail (at least for Top 4)

Vicky Agastya said...

Many favorite moments for me. On some match days, just looking at his name on the starting line up made me happy. Lots of happy Coutinho moments. This season i felt that he has gone up another level along with the rest of the attack. I was becoming increasingly confident that he'll have an impact on the result. What a player.

I read an article on sbnation saying that Coutinho is not important to Liverpool. He's isn't even in the top 5 of most important players. There's even a comparision of Countinho's importance with Henderson's! Delusional.
Thanks for reminding us that Coutinho is a Magician. Player of the Season for the last two seasons.

My favourite Coutinho goal was the one he scored in 13-14 against Man City at Anfield to win the match. I remember the commentator saying "Lift off at Anfield!!" the moment he scored. I went mad celebrating.

This time I have a little more confidence with Klopp and his team in charge of filling the Countinho void.
Thanks for the article!!