So, here it is then, the moment we’ve all dreaded for the last couple of years. Within an hour of FSG releasing an official statement on the future of Coutinho remaining at Anfield, the Brazilian hit back with a statement of his own; his intent to join Barcelona football club. Coutinho to Barca has gathered momentum in recent years and something thats been very much expected to one day happen, the natural successor to Iniesta in the eyes of many. What wasn’t expected, was this timing. Our number 10 played a prominent role in returning The Reds to Champions League football, he enjoyed his best season to date, scoring goals with aplomb and linking up with Firmino almost telepathically all season long. Like most Reds fans, I expected a big transfer window upon returning to the highest platform in European football with Phil was at the heart of that. Fast forward to the eve of the season and we’ve seen our top transfer targets fail to arrive at Anfield as of yet in Virgil Van Dijk and Naby Keita. The only direct signing that improves our first XI is our winger Mohamed Salah and in my opinion, that’s just not good enough for a team with ambitions of challenging for the Premier League title.
With successive bids of £72m and £90m swiftly turned down by the club, early on Friday, FSG decided to set their stall out and put an end to the Coutinho matter. This steely statement was greeted with relief by Reds fans, our American owners putting their foot down, providing confirmation Liverpool’s best player will remain at the club beyond this summer’s transfer window. Little did we know this was just the start of a rollercoaster day. Rumours started to surface that Coutinho had quickly responded with a transfer request, initially denied by Liverpool Echo’s mouthpiece James Pearce and also backed up by Goals’ Liverpool correspondent Melissa Reddy.
Just two hours later, the mood around Liverpool and for supporters across the globe changed for the worst, the same journalists declaring that the earlier reports were now in fact, true. Cue an LFC Twitter meltdown. So the player had now signalled his intentions, a move made if Coutinho suddenly felt backed into a corner perhaps?. On the other hand, conspiracy theorists may point towards the FSG statement was a way to appease fans fears if the transfer request was already anticipated by those inside the club. Either way, the club now have an unhappy player on their hands. One who felt it necessary to take matters into his own hands, only days after intimating that he would only join Barcelona if a deal could be reached “amicably”. Define “amicable”? – ‘Characterised by friendliness and absence of discord’. In my eyes, Klopp made it abundantly clear that LFC are not a selling club, couple that with two rejections of unwanted bids from the Catalan giant, I’d be comfortable enough to say that no amicable solution was on the horizon.
As the depressing ambience descends on the club, FSG have suggested that the transfer request changes nothing. Their initial statement still stands, Phillipe Coutinho will be a Liverpool player come the end of this transfer window. Let’s take a look at the situation from both angles, but first, a snippet of the meltdown that took place across social media;
In January of this year, Phil signed a contract to keep him at the club for five years, it was a lucrative deal that made him Liverpool’s best paid player on approximately £150,000 per week. He made his feelings towards the club as well as manager Jurgen Klopp clear declaring;
“This shows my happiness here,” he said. “I signed this new contract to stay here for a few more years because it’s a great honour for me. I was welcomed here with open arms by everyone at the club and the supporters right from my first day. Jurgen is a great manager. He’s a winner. I am very thankful to this football club for everything. We feel at home in this city, we feel a part of this city.”
Such words make it all the more difficult to comprehend the Brazilian’s latest move or should it? The world of football is a crazy phenomenon. Take any man in any run of the mill job for example, if he excels in his work, he may get a promotion or a pay rise, on the flip side, a head-hunter comes along and says “I will pay you x amount more to come and work for us” unless your current employer match or better that offer you’re gone right? Somehow this process gets lost in professional football. Player’s get the book thrown at them, declared a traitor and are met with shirts donning their name up in flames.
O’ Magico was performing brilliantly in the Premier League last season, he was halfway through a season in which he heavily contributed to Liverpool finishing in the top 4. His reward of course, a new contract with more money for the next five years? Is it really feasible to believe in this day and age a player will see out that contract? In theory you’d like to, realistically it’s a rare occurrence. A sad thing to say but its the truth. We’ve been here before, South American player on the periphery of world class status, enter Barcelona/Real Madrid, the inevitable happens.
Coutinho is a 25 year old about to enter his best years as a Football Player. The lifespan of a professional in this sport is short, everyone knows this. His best mate, Neymar has been calling out for him to join Barcelona for the last couple of years, there were even rumours he asked new club PSG to bring Coutinho with him as his world-record transfer to Les Parisiens neared conclusion. He’s been presented with a chance to join arguably the biggest club in world football, to challenge for every major honour and line up alongside the best footballer on the planet in Lionel Messi and another world class forward and friend Luis Suarez. Put yourself in his shoes, the temptation would be enough for almost anyone. Like myself, many Liverpool fans anticipated this day would come, for me, he would be the perfect replacement for Iniesta. The Spanish maestro is still at the Spanish club, perhaps not the figure he has been over the years but I guess Barcelona may see this as the pass over of greatness if you like. Little Phil can learn first-hand from the man himself whilst starting his own legacy in Catalan colours. Unfortunately for Liverpool these are difficult thoughts to put to the back of ones mind. Barcelona themselves will no doubt be painting a picture to Coutinho and his agent Kia Joorabchian that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Those on the outside looking in however, may disagree. Naturally, Barca will head the queue next season if Liverpool do indeed stand by their word and manage to keep hold of their star man.
Much is said of ‘player power’ in todays game. Words are barely worth the paper they are written on when it comes to contracts. Agents, money and promises of individual gain all contribute to contracts being broken early, if a club dare show any sign of restraint, a transfer request quickly becomes public knowledge and more often than not, the apparently unhappy player gets the move he has agitated towards. Four and a half years ago, Coutinho arrived at Anfield as a relatively unknown identity. Early days showed signs of promise, that promise progressed to a place in the 2015 PFA Team of The Year and since then the attacking midfielder has found himself flirting with a super power of world football in Barcelona Football Club. You have to have a certain quality to be courted by Barca, Liverpool fans see this in Phil every time the magician takes to the field. The club tied Coutinho down to a long term contract in January and will point to the lucrative offer he was awarded as a sign of intent. He would be the man to spearhead Liverpool back toward European contention. The masses of cash readily available to clubs in England have increased ten fold in over the years, even clubs outside the top 4 can now refuse to be bullied thanks to the decreasing nature of pressured player sales. Only last month Klopp declared Liverpool are not “a selling club”. Having (almost) returned to Champions League football, selling our best player on the eve of the season would be disastrous, especially given how poor this transfer window has transpired. Liverpool do not need the money, the transfer window is nearing an end and there doesn’t seem to be enough time to bring in a replacement of the same quality as the man who’s services are desired. The club are in a strong position and if they are to be taken seriously then there can be no u-turn of mammoth proportions if the club has any aspirations to compete on all fronts this coming season.
Exploring whah happens next, lets start with the worst case scenario? Barcelona come back with a third and potentially final bid of £110m+, the large majority of which would need to be paid upfront. The club may identify a target that could realistically be attained before the transfer window slams shut, who knows, perhaps a third bid goes in for Keita? Coutinho gets the move he is longing for whilst the club are able to bring in a replacement immediately to ease the rage which will surely ensue. It has been touted that The Reds may even be offered a cash-plus-player deal, names like Andre Gomes, Rafinha and Rakitic have all been thrown into the ring, none of which are a direct replacement for what Phil does for the team but I do rate the latter highly.
The club refuse to back down. The majority of Liverpool supporters will pray this is the case but then you have to consider the possible outcomes. The player himself refuses to train/play, the club is left with an unhappy player that potentially upsets team harmony, not what Liverpool need going into a new campaign. If Coutinho is forced to stay, similarly to the Suarez saga, where he is promised his move the following season, a period of realisation may take a number of weeks. We have to remember we are heading into a World Cup year, Coutinho will have little time to sulk and must perform if he his to be part of the Brazil squad that heads to Russia next summer. On the promise he gets his eventual dream move to the Nou Camp, I’m sure it wouldn’t take long for our number 10 to return to his mesmeric self and endear himself to Kopites for one final season.
A dramatic day surrounding Liverpool wouldn’t be complete without FSG gaining a mention. As I’ve said previously, I am neither FSG in or FSG out, the owners have not done anything spectacular to gain my unwatered support, neither have they let the club down enough to the extent I’ve called for their head. Not many owner’s are perfect in supporter’s eyes unless they are blessed with endless pockets of cash (PSG/Man City). During many an FSG rant, the American businessmen have been accused of a lack of ambition and support. During this transfer window I haven’t seen that. What I have seen is accusations the club haven’t done enough this summer to recruit top players but how much of that is down to the manager himself. Money has clearly been made available, £60m+ for Virgil Van Dijk, £70m+ for Leipzig’s Naby Keita, as well as the money already spent on Mohamed Salah and Andrew Roberston from A.S Roma and Hull City respectively. Klopp has been said to have identified specific targets, moves for these targets have yet to come to fruition for very different reasons. A public leak that weakened Southampton’s say in the transfer and a player deemed “Not for sale at any price” don’t exactly scream of FSG incompetence in my book but more a manager who is unwilling to compromise on his vision for the team. The transfer window remains open, I’ll reserve judgement until it closes and until then remain hopeful it ends in optimism for the pending season.
Will he, won’t he?
I gave my thoughts on Coutinho’s future recently and I stand by them. Being so late in the transfer window coupled with FSG’s most recent statement, I see Coutinho staying at Anfield for one final hurrah. When Suarez stayed, we were a slip away from the title of Premier League champions. Unfortunately, I don’t see us going so close this time around but if we can solidify our hold on the top 4 and maybe even pick up a trophy then I see that as progress. As much as it pains me to say, at this moment in time Liverpool are a big club, not a big team. That status will be reinstated when we are in the Champions League year in, year out as well as challenging for the league. For that to happen Klopp needs players of Coutinho’s ilk at the club, to achieve that we need to be competitive. It’s a constant circle of progression. To attract the best players, a club must be competing at the very top. The last time The Reds retuned to football’s elite club competition, it went down quicker than a lead balloon. The club must learn from its mistakes, Hoffenheim provide the first hurdle, one that will probably be taken on without our most wanted man. I try not to get too attached to any player that comes in and does ‘the lean’. Torres, Suarez and now potentially Coutinho are all guilty of breaking hearts at Anfield but it’s the love for the club that will always remain. As one club legend once perfectly said it;
“The most important people at Liverpool football club are the people who want to be there”. Amen.