People predominantly see January as the perfect time to set out goals for the year ahead. Maybe it’s a simple solution like going to the gym more, getting ready for what the Spanish call ‘Operación Bikini’. For others it’s about giving up a bad habit, usually smoking or drinking. For Philippe Coutinho it’s about finally securing his move to Barcelona and nothing else.
Barcelona did everything within their power to secure the signature of Liverpool’s talisman last summer. Having lost their own dose of Brazilian flair to Paris Saint Germain, Coutinho was the only choice to replace Neymar. Barcelona puffed their chest out and offered cash beyond Liverpool’s wildest dreams but the response was one they aren’t used to: a firm no.
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This put both Coutinho and Barcelona in an awkward situation. Despite fans wanting to believe their club doesn’t do anything wrong, tapping up is prevalent throughout the game. From Scunthorpe United to Manchester City, no one is innocent. Coutinho was assured a move would happen. Now it was off the table.
Liverpool damaged Barcelona’s pride which made this scenario inevitable
However for Barcelona this is more than just signing an important player for their present and future, it’s about pride. Liverpool’s refusal to even entertain bids left Barcelona with a bloody nose. If people buy into the belief they can no longer secure their main target, it gives hope to others to stand strong as well.
For the footballing romantics, it was a ray of light in an ever-darkening sport. Why must every good player at a top team take the easy option and sign for an even bigger one? Why can’t Coutinho drag Liverpool into the title race next season? Would winning the Premier League with Liverpool not mean more than picking up a winners medal at a club which wins at least two trophies per season?
We’re seeing this happen with Harry Kane now too. From a one-season wonder, tap-in merchant to needing to leave Spurs so he can reach his full potential. It’s an extremely shortsighted view to take because there are always bigger fish in the sea. Why not create more big fish as opposed to three or four extremely fat ones?
The chance to replace Iniesta is too good to turn down for Coutinho
Back to Coutinho. After five years at Anfield maybe he feels it is time to move on. I doubt it’s about money but maybe he sees the opportunity to replace Andres Iniesta as too good to turn down. And there’s an argument that Coutinho, as with Kane, won’t be universally lauded until he’s seen to make a difference at an elite club.
To his credit, Coutinho returned to the Liverpool team soon after the summer transfer window closed and performed to the best of his ability. Disappointed, maybe even angry, but after an apology to fans he appeared to mend the bridges he had earlier burned down.
Yet nothing has changed for Coutinho. He still wants to leave.
Sources close to the player and Liverpool are concerned that the situation will need to be resolved this month. A mysterious – and convenient – back injury is keeping Coutinho from making an appearance so far in January. Is this another tactic to try and force Liverpool’s hand?
According to Duncan Castles, the first meeting between the two clubs is set to take place today. Coutinho’s representatives have been in London for a few days now with the idea of closing a deal as soon as possible. The question doesn’t appear to be if, but when.
Why would Barcelona push for a move now?
Liverpool fans must be crossing their fingers in hope that any deal is for the summer instead of right now. With Coutinho cup-tied for the Champions League and Barcelona way ahead in LaLiga, could they reach common ground and allow Coutinho to see out the season on Merseyside?
Sure, but Barcelona’s plan is to bring Coutinho straight away. That fact he can’t play in the Champions League is irrelevant. They want to try Coutinho in a variety of roles so they can hit the ground running next season. Remember, the World Cup is likely to eliminate the majority of teams’ preseason preparations.
Another factor is that the signing of Coutinho would severely weaken a Champions League rival. Barcelona wouldn’t be able to use him in the competition but nor would anyone else. Any likely replacement for Liverpool, assuming they could get someone in this month, is likely to be cup-tied as well.
Liverpool still hold all the cards
There’s literally no reason for Liverpool to bow down to Barcelona’s demands. Coutinho only has eyes for one club and Barcelona need him to reaffirm their status at the top of the footballing ladder. But losing a key player in the middle of the season is far from ideal for Liverpool.
That doesn’t mean Liverpool can’t agree to sell Coutinho this month. However, like with their own Naby Keita deal, they should put it off until the summer. This would allow Liverpool to see through their Champions League campaign with their best players available whilst having six months to secure deals for potential replacements ahead of the World Cup.
Ultimately when a player decides his future lies elsewhere there’s very little you can do to change their minds. We’d all like to think that the guys wearing the club’s shirt care about the team as much as fans do. The harsh reality is they don’t. There’s a connection, for sure, but fans can’t cast aside their colours and wear another’s. Players can – and do.
The reality is the prestige, fame and money is probably more difficult to turn down now than at any point in history. Before you were missing out on a few hundred pounds a week, now it’s hundreds of thousands. And if you were offered a promotion at a bigger company for a lot more money, despite being happy where you were, the odds are you would take it in a heartbeat.
The Coutinho saga appears to be approaching it’s predictable end despite Liverpool’s best attempts. The only question is whether he leaves this month or next summer.
Unfortunately, in football, everyone has their price.