Philippe Coutinho’s stunning start to the 2016/17 season hasn’t gone unnoticed. Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Barcelona have all been linked with the midfield maestro in recent weeks with the latter’s interest in the Liverpool star entering it’s third year now.
During Liverpool’s 2013/14 season, which saw the club finish as runners-up in the league after a memorable run, a lot of praise, credit and plaudits was afforded to Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez. The creatively nicknamed SASAS. The three-pronged attack plundered many of the Premier League’s defences as Brendan Rodgers’ Reds side finished the season with 101 goals, the third highest in league history.
What often goes unnoticed when fans and pundits review the 2013/14 season is the fact it’s when Philippe Coutinho laid claims to being the heir Andres Iniesta’s mantle at Barcelona. At the time, the mercurial mop-headed number 10 was considered to be an attacking midfielder who started on the left side. He had played that role for Inter Milan and Liverpool. But Liverpool were the victims of their own success. Brendan Rodgers switched up the formation and Coutinho was was transformed into a water carrier-playmaker. A new breed of Brazilian who was just as creative and dynamic without the ball as he was with it.
It was this role change which seemed to open the eyes of many to just how good Philippe Coutinho could be and made many believe Barca had finally found their Andres Iniesta replacement. Like the Barcelona number 8, Coutinho was able to play as part of an attacking unit and as part of a midfield three. His versatility is key for such a fluid team.
Barcelona stars past and present aren’t shy in letting the world know either. Their PR charm offensive is in full swing.
Neymar has been vocal in his support: “I think there are many players with great qualities that could be playing for Barcelona. He is one of them. He is a great player and his style suits Barcelona.”
Coutinho’s idol Ronaldinho has also expressed his opinion on the subject: “I can’t speak for him and I can’t speak for Barcelona – but I know what Barcelona look for in a player and he has all those qualities.”
Barcelona legend Xavi had this to say when asked about Coutinho and Barcelona: “There are not many players that can improve Barcelona, but if you are asking me if he is one of them, on this form, I think he is. Technically he is very good. He would suit Barcelona’s philosophy well.”
Anytime Coutinho hit’s a bit of form the reports linking him to Barcelona resurface. The only difference this season is he’s been able to sustain this borderline world class level form. He’s finally putting to bed the claims of inconsistency.
While many South American players dream to play for Barcelona, and Coutinho may one day call the Nou Camp home, it’s unlikely to be anytime soon for quite a few reasons.
The Klopp Factor.
The German arrived in October 2015 and immediately went about finding Coutinho a home in his system. For quite some time under former boss Brendan Rodgers Coutinho was shifted about and played a variety of positions. This may have aided his development and his all-round game but it’s hard to play your way into form when you’re being tasked with a different role every single week.
Klopp arrived and ignored claims from pundits and fans that Coutinho could be his new Ilkay Gundogan in centre-midfield. Klopp put his faith in Coutinho on the left of his three-man attack and didn’t budge even when the Brazilian struggled at times.
Klopp and Liverpool are now reaping the rewards of a destructive force that Coutinho has become on the left side. The player himself cites Klopp as a big factor in his early season form.
“The winning mentality, the coach has brought this. He emphasises it a lot. He gives confidence to the players. I think today we believe more in our own potential and that has made us better on the field.”
Klopp has a history of keeping players against the odds. While at Dortmund his stars were regularly linked with big money moves away. Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus were linked with moves every single transfer window but Dortmund managed to keep hold of all of them until Klopp left with Lewandowski being the exception. With vultures circling there could have been unrest amongst the players but Klopp managed to unite them and guide them to a Champions League final.
Mario Gotze is a player who left before he was ready and his career stagnated at Bayern Munich. There’s a reason top class players stuck around at Dortmund with Klopp there. They knew he’d do everything in his power to develop them and turn them into better players.
Part of an exciting project.
This isn’t the Liverpool of old. There’s a purpose and a desire in this Liverpool squad and it’s fueled by Klopp himself. Champions League football will be returning to Anfield in the near future and there’s the chance to turn yourself into a Liverpool legend and be adored for eternity. The Liverpool squad isn’t the best in the Premier League but it’s one of the most exciting. It’s one of the youngest in the league and the potential is scary. Klopp has eyes on the Premier League title and you’d be stupid to bet against him when you see the turn around in the Liverpool side in just over a year.
Barcelona aren’t the force they once were.
This isn’t a knock on the current Barcelona squad but they aren’t the Barcelona of old. Club legend Andres Iniesta is 33 at the end of the season. Gerard Pique, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi are all 30 next season. The latter is being linked with a move away amid contract discussions stalling. They aren’t the big, bad, scary Barcelona they once were. Their recent signings – Lucas Digne, Denis Suarez, Paco Alcacer and Samuel Umtiti – are all talented but are they Barcelona players?
Barcelona drew 0-0 against nine man Malaga over the weekend without Messi and Suarez.
Coutinho would be joining them as they go through a transitional period looking to bed in players to replace their aging stars. The pressure would be on him to deliver and that’s not saying he can’t do that but would he want that after having to do the same for a number of years at Liverpool?
There’s no release clause in his contract.
Coutinho’s existing deal, which runs until 2020, has no release clause in it effectively meaning Barcelona would have to pay whatever price Liverpool slap on Coutinho. There’s no pressure on the Merseyside club to sell their creative spark. It would be up to Barcelona to make Liverpool an offer they can’t refuse and if reports are to be believed the Catalan club aren’t prepared to do that. Guillem Balague told Sky Sports that he can’t see the move happening anytime soon.
“Barcelona love Coutinho but they have no strategy to sign him at the moment. Neymar would like them to sign him and Coutinho himself is interested in the fact that Barcelona have followed him. That’s because he’s a forward and he can play where Lionel Messi and Neymar play but they are both there. Coutinho can’t be a substitute of those. He’s also going to cost around 70 million euros (£60m) and there is no buyout clause. This would mean a lot of negotiating with Liverpool. I don’t see it happening. Barcelona will spend their money somewhere else.”