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