QUIETLY, in the background, it is building. While the focus is on the potential exit of Brendan Rodgers, work has begun on a different Liverpool outgoing. With most stood at the front door waiting for a new manager to come in, the stories of Philippe Coutinho being primed for Spanish shores have largely snuck in through the back entrance.
Initially, it was just the fill of rumour mills. But the words were eerily familiar. Then Neymar was asked which of his international teammates he’d most love to tear opposition teams apart with at club level, and there was no hesitation in his answer. “Coutinho is a crack (top footballer) and I would like to play alongside him for Barcelona. He has the level to play for Barca”.
He does. And it’s not just Brazil’s golden boy who will want O Mágico to sprinkle his gold dust there. The Spanish papers have also referenced a move to Real Madrid, which would result in a reunion with his old boss Rafa Benitez.
We’ve seen this movie so many times before, and it is no feel-good flick.
This is Being Liverpool.
Coutinho stands as an example of success around a key FSG strategy: buy young, talented footballers and help turn their potential into end product. If he departs, he will also serve as a example of the failure around that policy. There is little point in putting an emphasis on development if the players join another side, which ultimately profits from the process. As Arsene Wenger once noted: “It feels like you are working for other clubs.”
Sure, financially you could score big. But football-wise, you’re only in the business of own goals if your brightest stars keeping saying bye bye.
FSG’s theory was to build a base of gifted youngsters to give Liverpool a competitive edge — to win things. In practice though, thinking heavily of tomorrow can lead to slipping today, which opens the talent pool up to offers of winning things now.
Sustainability and success cannot be separate conversations. The owners seemingly recognise this and have loosened their ‘build and grow from within’ stance, adding experience alongside their purchases of prospectives. However, because Liverpool are currently not an attractive option to elite footballers, the club have had to head into extra time to ensure their A-list assets remain on L4.
The outflow of world class is not a new problem, or one exclusive to FSG’s control of course. But as the current custodians of the club — ones that have vowed “we will deliver what every long-term supporter of Liverpool aches for” — it is their job to find a way to solve the issue. Because if your best footballers are forever waving farewell, you’ll forever be without a proper foundation to push on.
Selling your superstar for mega bucks and substituting him with multiple players is a flawed sub-plot, as we’ve already seen. When the sale is made, and your rivals who are already far stronger than you bolster further, it’s no Happily Ever After, as we know.
A year and a month ago today, Luis Suarez returned to Melwood following his move to Barcelona. He wanted to say his goodbyes in person, and handed Steven Gerrard his new number nine shirt, signed with a heartfelt message. That wasn’t the only thing he gave to his captain.
“Make sure you look after him, he’s a good kid,” the Uruguayan advised of Phil. “That told me how much Suarez rated Coutinho as a player,” Gerrard explains in My Story. “It struck a chord with me when Luis singled out Philippe as our most special young talent. It echoed my own view.”
Stevie may be in the distant glow and gloss of LA, but the message still remains: Liverpool need to take care of the Brazilian. Need to reinforce his importance. Need to go above and beyond to ensure he stays.
Coutinho agreed a new contract in February, which almost doubled his wages to around £70,000 a week, but that is only half of the highest bracket at the club.
There is room to reward him some more, room to demonstrate to him that he is absolutely essential to the club’s cause. There should be constant communication with Coutinho — not just from his teammates and the coaching staff, but from those higher up to check if he’s happy, to address his concerns…
If he leaves, Liverpool will know the question is ‘who will go next?.’ To build towards success, that narrative needs to change. The hype needs to surround which stellar name is coming in, not exiting. And if you’re hoping to attract top players, you’ve got to keep your own first.
The supporters have already played their part. After leaving Brazil five years ago, Coutinho admitted he finally feels like he is ‘home’ given the affection he has received from the terraces.
“It is a very unique and special feeling. It’s incredible when I hear the song, and it is touching that there are people who connect with you,” he told me earlier this year.
“I had goosebumps the first time I saw the flag with my face on it because I was really not expecting it. It was a cool surprise, and I want to thank the fans for the effort even to write ‘O Mágico’ in Portuguese.”
If the movie continues to be repeated, who will fans connect with? It will be harder to find anyone new to sing about and celebrate. Most especially, it becomes near impossible to win things.
Being Liverpool is in desperate need of an alternate ending.
Pic: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
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Really hope that Coutinho (got the spelling right, finally:) stays with us for life time.
hope our club’s bigshots by now learned from experience how to manage super star player.
will Phil stat with us for life time, giving up majority of players’ aspiration of playing for one of the two big clubs in Spain?
Time will tell. (Thank you, Daniel Aggar for showing what loyalty is!!!)
tbh Agger’s example would teach Coutinho that he’d be best served by ignoring any talk of loyalty towards LFC, as it’s not something that is reciprocated
Unfortunately, I think this is a cert. if I’m honest the only hope I felt came from a piece you wrote a while ago and referenced above where he says he feels settled.
There is another thing too. People pour scorn on comments about wanting to live in London etc but it has a bearing on people’s decisions and I won’t be told differently. What I’ve read this week is Coutinho moaning about the weather here and how hard it is in winter. I’m not saying the climate in London is any better but it certainly is in Barcelona or Madrid. I firmly believe this will influence his decision in the summer when they all come knocking. Portuguese speakers all speak Spanish too.
I’ve seen it all before. Tapping up on international duty. Communications through the press. The whispers of clubs being interested and the player revealing the first signs of dissatisfaction. Look out for my kid is happy in his school in Liverpool (or nursery class is probably more accurate here).
Robin, it’s the same hope I hold, and the club should act and build on that. As this is the first time he feels settled, appreciated and is really enjoying his football since he left Brazil at 18, he may be a little more careful about starting over again.
Saying that though, the pull of Barca, especially, will be pretty strong for him. There wouldn’t be much ‘settling’ either. Language, weather, style is all familiar to him. Neymar is one of his best friends. As is Suarez, who doubles up as a mentor of sorts.
It’s obviously hard for the club when Barca and Real start knocking, but Liverpool have to stop the talent drain because they cannot afford to be in constant rebuild. Especially if you’re selling A-list, and replacing at B, C and sometimes F level.
If you can’t convince the players to stay and help fulfil your ambitions, how do you convince the ones you’re trying to recruit?
Also, who talks him into staying? That was a job Gerrard usually took on…
I know we can’t keep watching the same movie though
Melissa, love your articles. Dark days at the club right now, not the darkest, but damn near. Sadly – even before I heard the rumors – I was saying to a friend I wouldn’t be shocked if a Spanish club made a move in January. With the tide going the way it is on the pitch, and the uncertainty around the manager I would be surprised If the Little Magician’s Wiki didn’t list his LFC career 2013-2016.
I have to think FSG know their decision, it’s got to be fire now or keep for five years plus a drastic change in transfer policy (i.e. bargains where we can, but no mincing on price for the big names), any in between and the fans will feel like they’re just circling the drain.
Yeah he’s bezzies with Neymar and Suarez is there too, obviously. They got Rakitic in as the replacement for Xavi and Iniesta isn’t getting any younger. He would have been here for 3 and a half years by next summer without us winning anything; the same as Suarez, Torres and even Mascherano. It just makes too much sense for it to not happen but maybe I’m just in a pessimistic rut.
I don’t know, hopefully Firmino can show some signs of filling that void and being our spark for the next few years.
Well, I like to think of us as still one of the biggest clubs there is and in some ways we are but, truth is, I don’t feel it when it comes to situations like this. I know what I think will happen in the summer.
It started with Suarez more than say, Alonso, Masch and Torres, for me. I understood why Torres wanted to leave, even though he went to an English club. When Suarez wanted to join Arsenal I had a realisation. Obviously, then Sterling. As you say, players don’t come. I think that’s been clear to us in the transfer windows. Coutinho has to be retained at any cost. If he goes then we’re in real danger of cementing a place as mediocre and, for the reasons mentioned above, it perpetuates.
I was amazed to read in the article he’s on £70k. I thought it was £100k and it’s left me feeling livid. I feel like we’re not helping ourself in what are already difficult conditions, especially given our aspirations. I’m worried.
Anyway, on that note, enjoy the match, haha.
I think it’s safe to say we’re all agreed that if Coutinho is sold for £60m+ to Barca or whoever the job of recruiting the right players to strengthen or rebuild the squad should be someone other than Brendan Rodgers and the transfer committee.
Any money given to these idiots would be an act of gross negligence on behalf of the club.It would be a novel idea to have someone with the relevant footballing expertise and knowledge to carry out the task,definitely no Ayre etc involved.
We all know it’s going to happen,just a case of when (unless he’s impressed by new management and their direction).
We all know how this story goes. Poor communication between board and player was a problem with both Gerrard and Sterling. It’s difficult to see the same people treating Coutinho any differently.
Once broadly supportive of our owners, now I’d sooner see FSG leave before Coutinho.
I think you’re spot on Melissa. This is, in all likelihood, going to happen unless we pull something special out of the bag in the next 12-18 months. Even then he might see his future in Spain.
In recent weeks Phil’s looked a little weary, wanting to win it for us. Taking on too much responsibility. There’s a fighter in him. A captain, if you like.
A business is only as ever good as its people; FSG surely understand this. If Phil were to go, I genuinely think we’d be sending the clearest signal yet that our status lies outside the very top tier of English football. It wouldn’t be his leaving per se; however, taken in conjunction with the recent departures of Suarez and Sterling, it would seem to have become something of a habit for the club to lose its top talents.
Unless players feel they can fulfil their ambitions with us, both financial and professional, they will move on.
Players wanna play with the best players, in the top comps while earning good money.
I suspect someone will come sniffing round Coutinho next summer but perhaps the fact he has moved around a bit already and is now playing regular football with us will convince him to stick around a bit longer. However that can’t last forever.
When you think about the big picture it can actually be quite depressing.
A top flight player’s career is likely to be between 8-12 years. I think you shouldn’t really expect any import to be at our club for more than 4-5 years, which is already going to be a significant amount of their professional career (and that’s a big reason why I typically advocate buying players at 22-23 years old, just before they’ve hit their peak, rather than when they’ve got 3-4 years of development ahead of them still). Coutinho is already 3 years into his LFC career. It may not be to Barca, but he will inevitably be off soon enough.
Especially if the club is apparently incapable of filling the team with better players and challenging at the highest levels, we shouldn’t begrudge anybody that gives his best for the club and then moves on after a few years.
Coutinho for about 40 million makes sense in the Summer, if his season really picks up. Probably Benteke the following Summer, if we can find a way to make him look more effective than Balotelli. Maybe Can, as well. All 3 need to improve, though.
I think Sturridge stays. He can always walk back into the first team, following a long lay-off. At a bigger club, that wouldn’t happen, so it makes sense for him to stick with us.
He will for definate move on. Imagine been him and seeing the likes of lallana signed on higher wages. Benteke etc. If his agent was any good he should be knocking down the door to get his wages doubled.
I think it’s a sad fact that he is the one player that when he gets a move it will be a move up. All the rest, anyone else in the team of the move it will be sideways or down because they are not good enough for the top teams.
If he does move on, we may as well give up all pretence of being a decent team. Didn’t one of the podcasts recently talk about players wage demands being in relation to their value to the team? In that case, he’s worth at least double what he’s currently on, possibly more.
By all accounts the wage bill has dropped considerably over the past few years. It’s time to stop penny-pinching and start paying our best players enough money to keep them here until we can either build a winning team around them, or we can fleece Barca/RM for silly money.
If he goes and £45-55m comes in, would you trust any of the people currently snugly ensconced in the club to spend it wisely?
$55m would be my absolute minimum before i’d even consider selling him, and that’d mean he’d need replacing as well. Better to give him an extra 20 million in wages over the next three years, and then ‘reluctantly’ accept a big money offer at the end.
Could you trust anyone at any club to spend that kind of money wisely ? That kind of money now gets you one top quality player, maybe two, and that holds true for most teams. Depends on what your aims are as a club, buy younger, less developed players, and hope they come good, or buy established stars.
Everton would spend that money in a completely different way than us, but they have different aims than us (generally). City, Utd, and Chelsea, would probably blow it on one player. If we want to be a big club, we have to behave like one, Arsenal being the exception to the rule in this case.
There is nothing that LFC/FSG can do specifically to increase the chances that Coutinho stays that wouldn’t benefit the club. ONLY if LFC are regular participants in the UCL, only if they actually do well in that competition, if they perform well in televised matches and get good results will Coutinho stay.
The best thing that FSG can do is make the necessary changes to increase the chances of us becoming regular top-four finishers. That’s it.
I mostly agree but if you don’t offer a decent wage (relative to status) then you’re running a massive risk. It’s the same in every workplace across the world. We’ve seen it before. In a nutshell, higher wages wouldn’t necessarily keep him but £70k for a player like him may well drive him away.
Robin,I think you’ve right about getting the going rate for the job.But getting the going rate in itself doesn’t’t mean that you commit your whole career to one place.
Other things come into place.Like everybody else,footballers go into work every day.And like everybody else they decide if a particular workplace suits them.
And like us if their workplace doesn’t suit them then it’s time to move on.
And that’s the big issue here.It doesnt’ake much imagination to see things from FSG’s perspective when you look at recent departures.You offer more money because that would be more financially sensible than trying to go into a transfer market in desperation.But more money doesn’t prevent the player from leaving….why?
Another excellent thought-provoking article from TAW (or Melissa more specifically).
The only downside to these articles is that they depress the fuck out of me. We as a club are gradually losing our spark and attraction I can’t help feel.
FSG are the problem. Still stubbornly refuse to accept moneyball wont play in the EPL. EPL is wild west, bot the super-regulated fields of american sport, where despite huge financial rewards they have found the balance of keeping a level playing field for all teams competing. No parades there of the same teams over and over, year after year winning with everyone else just making up numbers or feeder clubs.
As usual Melissa your view of the big picture is thought provoking if not very appealing, but it got me thinking what if we have got FSG all wrong and they understand a value Liverpool have as a feeder club with far greater clarity than the fan base imagines. After all the transfer dealings of the last couple of seasons make no sense, Liverpool needed two strikers with star dust quality to replace Suarez and instead they bought 16 players with potential. What if FSG have decided that they don’t care so much about winning things and just want the money? Rather than filling the squad with 2 or 3 worldies on big wages they can buy 16 players with potential and then by maturing them for two or three years then sell them on for a profit. Liverpool are potentially a great feeder club, they have big, difficult crowds and high profile matches, a great place for young players like Coutinho to develop, but by keeping them on low wages there is always the motivation to move on. Sterling was around the first team for two years and sold for £49 Million, even if Liverpool finish 6th over the next two years how much will the value of the squad increase just by being two years older? It could be Sturridge and Coutinho this summer and then Clyne, Ibe and Ings the year after. From a financial point of view is it easier to get top 4 or sell two or three players a year? It is a truly horrible thought but if the stadium is always full and the wage bill keeps going down but the potential squad value is always rising then it sounds like a good way to make a profit and let Billionaire owners pay over the odds to chase the dream