With transfer talk an industry all of its own, there’s no surprise that the headline makers in the English game are constantly linked with moves to the glamorous clubs on the continent. And few have made more headlines at Anfield than Philippe Coutinho.
Since joining Liverpool in January 2013, the Brazilian has become a mainstay in the starting line-up and a firm favourite with the Kop. The creative force of the Reds midfield, Coutinho is a vital player for them, capable of sublime finishes or exquisite passes to forwards for them to find the net. His sophisticated style of play manifests in an elegant simplicity on the ball.
Like all good players, he makes the difficult look simple and effortless. With an impressive array of dead ball expertise, his abilities cause opponents numerous problems and rarely offer them a chance to rest.
Inevitably, the good performances – and more importantly, the consistency of performing at that level – has drawn him to the attention of Europe’s elite. Coutinho has already spent some time at one such club; Internazionale took him from Vasco Da Gama as an 18 year-old.
Speculation is rife that Barcelona are set to make a move for the Brazilian capped 23 times by his country. With their history of taking South American players, particularly Coutinho’s compatriots, it’s hardly surprising that he would be at the very least, flattered, or like most others, extremely interested.
It’s easy to see why he would be seduced by such a move. Barcelona regularly win La Liga – eight since 2004-05 – whilst winning the Champions League is a genuine prospect rather than a pipe dream.
The Camp Nou is one of football’s great stadiums – as are Anfield and the San Siro – and the best players want to appear on the grandest stages. Financially, a move to Barcelona would leave him secure for the rest of his life and that of his family for generations to come.
With those positives, as well as the prospect of teaming up with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and compatriot, Neymar Jr., there seems no good reason to turn down a transfer if a bid were to arrive on Jurgen Klopp’s desk.
The first question is why Barcelona would want to sign him? Aside from being associated with the best players, the Catalans need a reason to use some of their vast riches. The most obvious answer is the ageing Andres Iniesta. The timeless Spaniard is 32 and heading into the twilight of his career.
Barcelona already have Portuguese international Andre Gomes in their squad, seemingly viewed as the inventive Iniesta’s heir apparent. With Ivan Rakitic and Denis Suarez as well, there is plenty of competition for places.
Of course, one or more may leave to make way for Coutinho but it seems a huge risk on Coutinho’s part to take the chance and have to fight for his place. Arda Turan is a good example of a perfect move going wrong – or not as well as he might have hoped – made all the more galling by the fact that he gave up six months of his career whilst Barcelona served out a transfer ban.
Turan isn’t the only one to struggle, even Catalans do. If Coutinho wants to know what life in the Camp Nou really is like when the competition for places is intense, he could do worse than talk to Cesc Fabregas.
The Chelsea midfielder left Arsenal to return to his spiritual home and couldn’t be considered a success despite the silverware haul. A frosty relationship with sections of the supporters, he eventually became surplus to requirements himself.
There is another side to the argument, a different angle to consider. Why would Coutinho want to leave Liverpool?
In Jurgen Klopp, he is working with one of the game’s most innovative coaches, a fresh-thinker and breath of fresh air to the English game. Not devoid of ego but experienced at puncturing egos nonetheless and that was what the Premier League needed.
Coutinho is kingpin at Anfield, the star turn. There are other internationals – England players – but none are as important as the Brazilian. He is a pivotal member of ‘Project Klopp’. A reborn Liverpool is one of English football’s romantic dreams.
Heralding a return to the success of thirty years ago would guarantee Coutinho a place in the pantheon of Liverpool greats. Can Liverpool win the title this year? There’s no reason why not; by no means guaranteed with plenty of competition for first place but certainly their best chance in a number of seasons.
With a contract that doesn’t expire until 2020 and at 23, time is definitely on his side. Warnings will come that ‘clubs like Barcelona don’t ask twice’ but Anfield under Klopp is definitely a better place to learn your trade than under the microscope in Spain.
Crucially, he doesn’t appear to be in a hurry. He’s three years or so from his peak. Settled at home, he has not made overtures in the press about leaving; quite the opposite, in fact. Ambition is vital in successful players but even more important is knowing when the right time to embrace a new challenge is.
Not right now seems to be the answer.