In a debate that is sure to divide our fan-base, Tom Beattie asks just what should Liverpool do about wantaway talisman Phillipe Coutinho?
Following a stellar campaign under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool fans would’ve been forgiven for thinking Phillipe Coutinho’s long-term future would lie on Merseyside as the curtains came down on the 2016/17 season at Anfield, the Reds securing Champions League football for the first time in three seasons after defeating relegated Middlesbrough on the final day. Questions regarding the future of their prized asset appeared to be a non-starter, the Brazil international’s charm offensive upon signing a new five-year deal in January certainly appearing quash any suggestions that the playmaker would be plying his trade anywhere other than at Anfield come August. In his own words, Coutinho professed that he planned to “become a legend at Liverpool”, vowing to resist the urges of “Spain and China”; the Brazilian entirely convincing in his insistence of his contentment with life on Merseyside.
Fast forward a matter of months, however, and the Reds now face a real dilemma over whether Phillipe Coutinho should feature for the club again in any capacity following a summer-long flirtation with Barcelona during which the diminutive midfielder’s overtures possibly left his position at the club, regardless of any bids from Catalonia, in real jeopardy. Following the record-breaking departure of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain for no less than £198m, the Blaugrana hierarchy were faced with the task of replacing a world class talent, in a bid to appease their dismaying fanbase and the void in their side that would inevitably be left upon Coutinho’s countryman’s departure. For the La Liga giants’ president, Josep Maria Bartolemeu, Liverpool’s Coutinho represented the calibre of player that would seemingly fit this bill. In a bid to unsettle the Brazilian, Bartolemeu accordingly made efforts to prize the 25 year-old from Anfield, his growing impatience quickly turning the saga into a petulant soap opera that he hoped would leave Reds chiefs licking their wounds and feeling backed into a corner with little option but to eventually cower to his demands. In one of the more storied transfer sagas in recent years, the Reds faced, it seemed, faced an upward struggle in their fight to retain the jewel in their crown.
The relationship between Coutinho and Liverpool appeared to reach breaking point when on the 11th of August following news of a second bid being rejected for the Brazilian’s services and the release of a statement from Red’s owners FSG to the effect that Coutinho would not be leaving the club, events turned ugly with the diminutive midfielder handing in a written transfer request via email, just months after future his long-term future to Jurgen Klopp’s side, leaving the Reds in limbo and with the prospect of three weeks of turmoil as the brazen Catalonians vied to pluck the 25 year-old from the Reds’ coffers. The Brazilian’s agitations did not end there; inflammatory comments allegedly from a family member who would seek to speak on Coutinho’s behalf suggested a break-down in the midfielder’s relationship with manager Jurgen Klopp, bemoaning his treatment at the club and the Reds’ reluctance to allow an “amicable departure” to come to fruition. A matter of hours prior, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp had spoke almost glowingly of his belief that Coutinho was not the type of player to agitate for a move and the developments that occurred since, one would ponder, would have surprised nobody more than the charismatic former Borussia Dortmund chief himself.
The saga, of course, did not end there.
Further bids for Coutinho’s services did duly arrive only to meet the same the response as those before. Whether this was actually in line with the wishes of manager Jurgen Klopp or the ownership remains unclear, as suggestions have been mooted in the past month that the former had, in fact, concluded that the Brazilian’s departure would be for the best for all parties but what certainly did appear conclusive was Liverpool’s unwavering stance that Coutinho would be staying at Anfield beyond the transfer deadline. True to their word, FSG’s insistence regarding the midfielder’s future paid dividends with the 25 year-old remaining on Merseyside as the transfer window concluded last week.
The question does, however, remain over where this leaves the unsettled midfielder. If his alleged unapologetic discontentment towards the thought of even ever playing for the club again wasn’t enough, suspicions still exist over whether the mysterious “back-injury” that has plagued the start of his season in England, rendering him unable to play, was quite as serious as the Brazilian had intimated. Given the once over by his national team’s medical staff on the eve of their games during the international break, his back showed little signs of impairment. Clearly, the accusations that Reds chiefs had been mislead all along appeared to have not been completely unfounded. What is true, however, is that despite his insistence this week that he will refuse to play for the Reds again this season, his now clean bill of health and inclusion in Liverpool’s Champions League squad, would perhaps suggest that, contrary to his wishes, Coutinho remains in Jurgen Klopp’s plans for the upcoming season.
This has, of course, always been the insistence of Klopp himself, the German only last week opening up on his plans to reintegrate the Brazilian into his squad following the conclusion of the transfer market. For some this may be a hard pill to swallow. A player who has in no uncertain terms showed nothing less than a complete disrespect for his employers being offered the hand of friendship, will no doubt irk even some of the more levelled headed of supporters. The Reds, do however have history to call upon in recent times as they look to reach a resolve to the situation. We do not, of course, have to look much further than the summer of 2013 when Luis Suarez made clear, in not too dissimilar circumstances, his desire to depart Anfield, this time for Arsenal. Infamously, John W Henry, offered perhaps the standout quote of his time as Reds owner in response as Arsene Wenger’s side offered a bizarre sum of £40m plus £1 for the Uruguayan forward, the Bostonian asking “What are they smoking over there at the Emirates” as the controversial yet brilliant striker duly stayed put on Merseyside. No doubt, with the amount of parallels in this situation to the one concerning Coutinho, his fellow South American will have food for thought regarding how he could well handle the fall out from his failed attempts to depart Anfield. As it were, Suarez, fresh from a ban and a failed switch to North London, produced a season that went down in Anfield folklore as his individual performances and red-hot form in front of goal dragged Liverpool to the brink of their first title in over 20 years.
Clearly, it is not out of the question for Coutinho to follow suit and produce the kind of form that would, indeed, warrant a glittering move in excess of £100m to pastures new, as is his desire and it, if anything, seems the most glaringly obvious route for the Brazilian to take. If the 25 year-old was to produce the kind of displays week in week out that would, in turn, justify the fee that Barcelona were willing to shell out for his services this summer, I’m sure the midfielder would depart Anfield with the blessing of the fans as Luis Suarez did in the summer of 2014. What secured Suarez this rare privilege was the fact that, rather than throwing his proverbial toys out of the pram as would, perhaps, be the temptation, the Uruguayan set about earning the move that had proved elusive to him just the summer before. One thing is for certain, Phillipe Coutinho could do a lot worse than to emulate the former Ajax striker’s efforts following the collapse of his move to Arsenal in 2013 and put in the kind of displays that would make it almost impossible for the Reds to dig their heels in for a second time.
Admittedly the Reds are now, perhaps, with Jurgen Klopp at the helm a more attractive prospect for incoming players than the side that finished the 2013-14 season as runners up to Manchester City. This said, it is no secret that South American players, on the whole seem to, as the example of Suarez would convey, view playing for Barcelona and Real Madrid as the apotheosis of what one can achieve in one’s playing career. This is something that I think most Liverpool fans have come to accept over the years but the general feeling is that Coutinho does owe Liverpool another year. It is easy to forget, for example, the crossroads the career of Phillipe Coutinho was at when he arrived at Anfield. It is, therefore, not wide of the mark to suggest that without Liverpool, it is unclear that Coutinho would be attracting the advances of the likes of Barcelona whatsoever. If the midfielder wants a way back into the fray at Anfield, then an olive branch for the sake of the interests of the team itself, will no doubt be offered and I dare say the Brazilian will still prove vital to the Reds’ prospects as they prepare to challenge on all four fronts this campaign if the Reds do opt to eventually swallow their own pride. The past month has, indeed, been a difficult one for the supporters but the best way the Brazilian can now repay the fans is by simply getting his head down and showing the club the respect that it is, frankly, due. If he does that, I’m sure that over time, like his fellow South American Luis Suarez, his behaviour this summer will perhaps be absolved over time, but first of all the playmaker needs to get back to doing what he does best; making this exciting Liverpool side tick.
By Tom Beattie