When Liverpool have sold key players in recent years, it has had a tendency to backfire on them but not so in the case of Philippe Coutinho
whose sale arguably helped finance the purchases of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker.
Coutinho, who was long touted as one of South America’s hottest talents, was spotted in the youth system at Vasco de Gama and purchased by Inter Milan aged 16 in July 2008. Jose Mourinho was manager at the San Siro then, but Coutinho’s development continued in his native Brazil with him being loaned back to his boyhood club. When the time to finally make the move to Europe with Inter proper came two years later, he never really established himself.
Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, then at Espanyol, was prepared to take a chance on Coutinho and got him on loan for the second half of the 2011-12 campaign. When he left the San Siro for good in the winter of 2012-13, it was former Inter and Reds boss, Rafa Benitez, who recommended him to Brendan Rodgers and the Anfield hierarchy.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Coutinho cost Liverpool £8,500,000
in January 2013 and was sold five years later for an initial reported £106,000,000. His value virtually increased twelve-and-a-half times from inbound transfer to the Anfield exit.
While he didn’t make the 2014 World Cup on home soil, Coutinho’s reputation was left unsullied by the humiliation Brazil suffered when battered 7-1 by subsequent winners Germany in the semi-final. The Reds went close to Premier League glory under Brendan Rodgers that season but the elusive wait for the title went on.
His importance and contribution to Liverpool grew. Fellow professionals, Reds supporters and the club recognised that as Coutinho made the PFA Team of the Year for 2014-15 and received the club and fans’ player of the season award. The following campaign he got another accolade to go with winning those club gongs again, the Samba Gold
for best Brazilian footballer in Europe.
In 2016, Coutinho again came close to success on Merseyside as the Reds reached the League Cup and Europa League finals only to succumb to Manchester City and Sevilla respectively. He then enjoyed his best scoring season at Liverpool with 14 goals – 13 of which came in the Premier League.
Effective in midfield, off the front and on either wing, Coutinho was bound to have suitors. Barcelona bought him halfway through the 2017-18 campaign and he helped them to a La Liga and Copa del Rey domestic double scoring 10 goals across those competitions to go with 12 he got for the Reds.
Despite that fine start to a permanent life in Catalonia at the Nou Camp, Coutinho lives in the shadow of Lionel Messi there. An undisputed icon of Barca, he is not only captain and leader but synonymous with the club.
That may be one of the reasons why rumours suggesting Coutinho could return to the Premier League have done the rounds of late. While the latest sports betting
suggests he will remain with Barcelona, 888Sport go 15/4 that he returns to Anfield. Chelsea and Manchester United, meanwhile, are other clubs mentioned as potential next moves, whereas Man City have been cited as 20/1 shots to sign the Brazilian. Although, it should be noted that he is just 1/7 to stay at Barcelona.
Bitter rivals United are nothing like as attractive a prospect as Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp has the Reds consistently challenging for major honours, whereas the Old Trafford outfit can only offer Europa League football and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a big rebuilding job there.
Any interest in Coutinho from Chelsea, meanwhile, depends on the future of Eden Hazard. There is also the small matter of a transfer ban which UEFA has so far refused to lift pending appeal.
While Liverpool have moved on from Coutinho and had readymade replacements in Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane, he will always be remembered for having an explosive impact on Merseyside. His Reds career stats of 54 goals in 201 games come out at a just better than one-in-four average which is comparable with his return at Barca.
Written by Alan Spencer