Philippe Coutinho is playing for his future at Barcelona, just a year after making a €140 million move from Liverpool, and could be sold in the summer to fund a deal for the player he came in to replace at the Catalan club: Neymar.
Coutinho signed for Barca in January last year and was cup-tied in the Champions League, but he impressed in the second half of the campaign at Camp Nou, scoring 10 goals in 22 appearances as Barca won LaLiga and the Copa del Rey.
However, he has found life more difficult in his second season and has started only one of Barca’s last five fixtures: the 1-1 draw at home to Tottenham in December when coach Ernesto Valverde picked a weakened XI with first place in the group already secured.
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The 26-year-old, who was signed as an option for the left-forward position vacated by Neymar and also with a view to stepping into Iniesta’s shoes, has not made either position his own and could now make way as Barca plan a sensational summer swoop for his international team-mate.
Neymar has been back to Barcelona on a number of occasions since his €222m move to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2017 and has admitted he misses his friends Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
“I was at their training session,” the Brazilian said last year. “I spoke with them all. I had a good time. I miss them a lot.”
Barca’s South American scout Andre Cury, who has close links with Neymar and his father and helped mastermind the forward’s transfer from Santos in 2013, set up a meeting with the player’s entourage before Christmas and the former favourite is open to a return to Camp Nou.
Relations between PSG and Barca have been tense since Neymar’s move to the Parc des Princes and the Catalan club released a statement in late December to deny they were negotiating with midfielder Adrien Rabiot over a summer switch
Rabiot is out of contract in June and is set to join the Spanish champions, but the statement may have been part of the Catalans’ strategy to lure Neymar back in the summer.
Barca have previously ruled out a return for the Brazilian after he left under a cloud when PSG paid his release clause in 2017, but the club's director of institutional relations, Guillermo Amor, said in November: “Anything is possible.”
And Messi, in an interview with Marca published over the Christmas holidays, said: “We would love him to come back, for what he represents, both as a player and in the dressing room. We’re friends and we lived some very special things together.”
Coutinho, who has fallen behind Ousmane Dembele in the pecking order at Camp Nou, could be the player sold to help raise funds for the move, ironically making way for the man he came in to help replace.
Barca, however, would face a fight with PSG to sign their former forward and Neymar would likely have to express his desire to return in order to facilitate a transfer back to Camp Nou.
Behind the scenes, though, the wheels are already in motion as the tumultuous transfer saga from 2017 looks set for a second instalment this summer.