On Saturday, the news Liverpool fans had long been dreading and Barcelona fans had been dreaming of was finally announced. Philippe Coutinho was officially made a Barcelona player, becoming the third most expensive player in the world – behind fellow countryman Neymar and Kylian Mbappe at €142million.
The only solace that Reds fans can take from this is that the saga surrounding the Brazilian’s future is finally over. From the transfer request Coutinho handed in the summer to the personalised Nike website saga, the 25-year-old has finally got his long-sought-after move to the Catalan giants.
It does make little sense to fight hard to keep one of your best players in the summer, only to let them go halfway through the season – and the fact that Coutinho will be cup-tied for Barcelona’s Champions League campaign this season makes it all the more baffling.
The transfer could also have deeper ramifications on Liverpool’s season. Having lost a player who has arguably staked a claim for the Reds’ Player of the Season so far, losing a player of Coutinho’s calibre has the potential to seriously derail the Merseysiders’ campaign.
However, there is no doubting that the Brazilian gave 100% on the pitch in his half season at the club this season. Whilst many were calling for him to be sold over his constant feigning of injuries and lackadaisical attitude towards the club, I believe that persuading a player to stay at the club for another season could definitely pay dividends. All you need to do is cast your mind back to the Luis Suarez saga in the summer of 2013 – whilst the Uruguayan looked set to leave, the club fought hard to keep him until the end of the 2013/14 season. It paid off hugely, and Liverpool finished the season a meagre two points behind eventual champions Manchester City.
And it was a case of history resurfacing itself. The creative midfielder stayed for the first half of this season – and it paid off hugely and contributed heavily to Liverpool’s first Champions League R16 berth since 2009. The stats read impressively: the Brazilian international has contributed 21 goals and assists in just 20 games in his new vitalized midfield role, with signs having implied he was not distracted on the pitch by any rumours linking him to Barcelona.
Since his arrival at Anfield in January 2013, he has become the highest scoring and assisting Brazilian in the history of the Premier League. He has 41 goals 35 assists to his name, along with 76 goal contributions in 152 games.
However, in the end, not even the most ardent Liverpool supporter could argue against Coutinho’s decision to move to the Spanish giants. There is no disputing the fact that almost all footballers that originate from areas of Latin America or South America dream to play for the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid. In the diminutive playmaker’s case, this was no different. Such was his desperation to leave Anfield, that he used his own money from Nike to infamously advertise his impending move to the Catalan giants.
Not only was it his ‘dream’ to play in Barcelona, but another factor which undoubtedly contributed to his departure was the lack of silverware. Since arriving in 2013 under Brendan Rodgers, Coutinho is yet to lift a piece of silverware despite having reached two finals under the tutelage of Jurgen Klopp. In this same period, Barcelona have lifted six trophies. So in that respect, it isn’t difficult to envisage why he was so after the move.
If you asked any Reds fan regarding their stance on the situation, most would definitely have reservations. In my opinion, it would’ve made logical sense to have agreed a pre-contract deal for the summer – as this would’ve taken the pressure of Klopp to bring in a replacement as well as giving the side a more reasonable shot of a first piece of silverware since 2012. Also, letting the side’s most prized asset go at this stage of the season seems like a massive risk in the short-term, to both Liverpool’s Champions League and domestic ambitions. Even if the Merseysiders’ form without Coutinho does read impressively, it could be a massive gamble which could backfire as Liverpool look to seal a Champions League spot for the second consecutive season.
The only thing that a Liverpool supporter in this situation can do is trust the judgement of the manager. It was Klopp who decided to sell the ex-Inter Milan midfielder in the end according to reports – presumably down to his morals regarding unity and team spirit. This was evident in the Mamadou Sakho situation two summers ago, when the German furiously sent the Frenchman to the wilderness of South London following his lack of professionalism. Although reports may suggest that a replacement is yet to be sounded out by the club, it’s down to Jurgen Klopp to decide how to fill the creative void left by the diminutive playmaker.
In the meanwhile, what does this mean for Liverpool’s attacking players? We will get to see more of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, the £35million signing from Arsenal who has featured as a squad player thus far this season, whilst there will be an increased strain on the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana to produce the goals which have propelled them up to 4th in the table and within 4 points of 2nd-placed Manchester United.
However, that does not mean the club should be waiting until the summer to wrap up a deal for a creative player of Coutinho’s ilk. There should be no reservations about a replacement at this stage – without the Brazilian, Liverpool simply lack players who possess the quality on the ball Philippe Coutinho does – barring maybe Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge. And with Sadio Mane struggling for form since early December, a playmaker ideally capable of filling out wide or playing centrally in midfield as a No. 8 is required. The likes of Riyad Mahrez and Thomas Lemar have been linked – but English media have reported these alleged ‘done links’ as being fanciful, false claims.
At the end of the day though, Coutinho will be a huge miss to Liverpool. But a replacement must be found. Quick.