Rahul Warrier on the problem facing Jurgen Klopp as the rumours that his main man will leave gather momentum
The road from mediocrity to a world-class stature is awash with potholes; Liverpool are finding out that theirs is a Coutinho-sized dilemma.
Ever since the heady days of Rafa Benitez, Liverpool have fallen down from their high status both in England and in Europe, with poor ownership causing their top talent to flock away from Merseyside.
Mascherano, Alonso and Torres were just three players to find their services better suited elsewhere. After re-building, they mounted a title challenge in 2013-14, finishing second just as they did in 2008. But in allowing Luis Suarez and then Raheem Sterling to move elsewhere in search of a step-up, they set their project back a couple of years again. It is what Klopp risks doing if he lets Coutinho leave for Barcelona.
Under the charismatic German Liverpool stand a better chance of holding on to the gems while attracting top talent from across the continent. The purchase of Mohamed Salah, one of Roma’s best players, stands testament to the Klopp factor.
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But the unsuccessful pursuit (so far) of Leipzig’s Naby Keita and Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk attests to the fact that they will not always get the talent they covet, which makes holding onto their prized assets all the more important. Liverpool may need at least two major signings to push for a title challenge this season, or at least one; but a worst-case scenario would not be signing players at all, but losing Coutinho.
As the club showed with the Suarez sale, re-investing the money from a big sale is no easy task, especially when there is less than a month left to the end of the window and a week to the start of the season. Rival clubs will demand a higher fee with the knowledge of Coutinho’s price, and the club will be unlikely to either get their primary targets or replace Coutinho adequately, if that is even possible.
From the player’s point of view a deal to Barcelona is near-irresistible, and if Neymar does leave, it allows an opening for Coutinho in the side, either as a left-winger or as a long-term replacement for the ageing Iniesta.
While Liverpool fans could once question the sporting sense of a move, they no longer can. If the Brazilian does want to leave, it will be tough to deny him the move, especially if he stays unhappy through the season.
But if the question is still open, there has to be no choice. Coutinho staying would be a signal of intent to the rest of the Premier League, and could help in attracting the players they need to mount a challenge.
The so-called Klopp factor is such however that if he manages to replace Coutinho with a player more suited to his style of play, the fans will be content, especially if the fall-out from the sale isn’t as good. But it does not deny the fact that Liverpool will firmly fall into the ‘selling club’ category, no matter how much they try.
Players will continue to do a Sterling and push for a move in the future – and Liverpool will be stuck in the endless cycle of rebuilding while rivals push ahead. If the owners have money and aren’t afraid to spend it, they will not be as tempted by Barcelona’s money.
They would have the money from Neymar’s sale and be ready to splurge- but Liverpool have to resist their overtures. They hold all the cards, but Barcelona may have the joker, and that could be enough.
Liverpool are used to cherry-picking the best of talent from Southampton. They’ve been denied by their favourite hunting ground this season, and now the tables have turned.
If they can’t sign Keita and his unique skill-set, they can at least learn from Leipzig’s resolve. The sale of Coutinho may not end up hurting on a sporting level, but it would damage the club’s allure. They have to aspire to becoming more than a stepping stone- the road to that starts with Philippe Coutinho.