Andres Iniesta gave a rare 90-minute masterclass at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night. His coach Luis Enrique likened him after the game to an artist making “the pitch his canvass”. He also said, somewhat cryptically: “He needs to participate in what it means to grow old at Barcelona.”
He's not going anywhere this summer despite still not having signed what will probably be his last contract at the club. But it is also clear that he has participated in fewer games this season than in previous campaigns and has increasingly become the luxury brought out for special occasions.
There have been too many injuries over the years for him to play 40 games a campaign – something he found it hard to do even at his peak. So now, more so than ever before, Barcelona are searching for what it would be sacrilegious to call the ‘new Iniesta’, so let’s just say: someone to play alongside him when he's there, and more importantly to play instead of him when he’s not.
Now, rewind five days to the Merseyside derby and to Philippe Coutinho’s brilliant goal against Everton.
Iniesta could not have done it any better, stepping inside on to his right foot and curling the ball past Joel Robles into the top corner. It's no surprise that the Brazilian tops Barcelona sporting director Robert Fernandez’s list of summer midfield signings and at Barca, where the players have more influence than at most clubs, Coutinho has two very important sponsors – Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Suarez counts Coutinho as one of his best friends in football from their time together at Anfield. The cul de sac where Suarez lived – having moved into Fernando Torres’ former home – was also where Lucas Leiva lived and it became the hub of off-the-field activity for the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Liverpool players of the era.
The famous picture of Suarez emerging from a supermarket with a trolley laden with fizzy drinks and booze was ahead of a garden party to which Coutinho was invited. The Brazilian had even gone to Costcutter to do the beer run with his pal. There was even the occasional game of Monopoly together. Wild times.
On the pitch the connection was just as strong. On route to so nearly winning the league in 2014, Coutinho’s goal against Manchester City was technically brilliant and crucial too. Suarez picked it out as his favourite of the season – the one he would like to have scored.
In his Crossing the Line autobiography he speaks about talking to the then 21-year-old Brazilian before the game, telling him to keep his head if he didn’t see the ball for spells of the game. Coutinho needs less mentoring these days and Suarez would love to have him on his side again, although he is unlikely to publicly pronounce it, such is his respect for Liverpool.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: Barca superstars want Coutinho - and he's ready to be Iniesta's apprentice