Gibbons Ident (1)

HOW’S the transfer window been for you so far? It’s now an established past of the season — when football teams try to solve all their problems and supporters are glued to Twitter and Newsnow with even the most obscure link only a YouTube compilation away from supporters crossing out that ‘Liverpool XI on the opening day’ and starting again. 

But for Liverpool fans the summer window up to now has become as frustrating as it is exciting. We just want to focus on ‘the final pieces of the jigsaw’ but footballers who play for us keep being tempted by being the final piece in someone else’s. Despite losing Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling in consecutive summer windows, and plenty more big names if you are willing to go further back, these links away keep catching us out. In our focus on strengthening we forget that others have the same idea. And that, occasionally, they might actually be more appealing.

This summer’s saga looks set to be Philippe Coutinho.

Newspaper, or indeed website, stories need to be taken with a pinch of salt of course, especially at this time of year. Just like Liverpool won’t bid for 90 per cent of the players we are linked with this summer, the same applies to Paris St Germain and Barcelona. Just because Dani Alves thinks it is a good idea for Phil to go to the Nou Camp, doesn’t mean it will happen. He might not fancy the French league, or indeed the French cheese. Still not ideal though, is it?

I’ve been surprised by the mixed reaction to the news. When speaking with John Barnes at an event for The Florrie on Saturday night he was strongly of the opinion that if a player wanted to leave he should be allowed to. His theory was that an unhappy player could be disruptive if things started to go wrong, and that everyone needed to be fully committed and on board with the ‘project’ if it is to succeed.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Wednesday, March 16, 2016: Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho Correia celebrates scoring the first goal against Manchester United during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 2nd Leg match at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I understand this, to an extent. And John Barnes knows much more about what makes a successful dressing room than I do. But I just can’t imagine we are at the point with Coutinho where things are that drastic. He may be considering his future; he may be wondering if Liverpool is the best place for his talents right now. But that just means you have to convince him. If the owners and management are confident in the direction they are taking the football club, then they should be able to convince our best players of that direction.

Because Coutinho is one of our best players. His team-mates think he is the best. But that seems to have been forgotten all of a sudden. Since the story of a possible move broke I have heard various surprising comments along the lines of “he’s rubbish in big games anyway”, “he isn’t quick enough for a Klopp attacking three”, “he doesn’t score enough goals” and, the one we never seem to learn from, “I’d sell him and use the money to buy X”.

In this case the new exciting target — who may or may not want to play for Liverpool — is Gonzalo Higuain.

Selling your best players should always be a last resort, not a tactic to build a squad. I don’t buy that he can’t fit into a Klopp system and I think it’s a massive gamble to suggest the money could be used better elsewhere. As Neil suggested in this week’s free Anfield Wrap show, you often feel with transfers that fans are targeting perfection that doesn’t exist. That, too, we focus on what a player, no matter how strong, can’t offer and presume that someone coming in can rectify that.

Liverpool won’t be perfect next season. They won’t be perfect in the transfer window this summer. Players who have performed at a high level need to be supplemented with others who can raise the overall quality of the team. But there is another issue, aside from just quality, that is often overlooked.

It is thought that, on average, footballers peak in their late 20s. If you look at the ages of those who started the Europa League final, seven of the outfield 10 were aged between 23 and 26, with two of the others aged 30 and above. The three substitutes were aged between 21 and 26. The club captain Jordan Henderson, and unused substitute, is 25. Only one of the outfield players who featured in Basel was aged 27 to 29, and that was Adam Lallana.

We seem to have an age gap in our team — the age that common football consensus suggests is the best one to be winning things. In contrast to Liverpool, six of Sevilla’s outfield players in Basel were aged 27 to 29. All of their starting outfield players were aged between 26 and 30. And we wonder why they looked like they knew what they were doing a lot more than Liverpool.

Which brings us back to Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho wasn’t great in that final, but he’s gaining experience. He’ll be better next time. You have to accept, if you largely have a policy of buying young players, that there will be some bumps in the road. That it will be worth it when they mature. Liverpool can’t keep buying young talent and selling them before they peak. As fans we are sick of watching former players in the Champions League playing for other teams.

We can’t become a breeding ground for footballers; a place where they learn their trade before playing their most effective years elsewhere. If that happens then the policy falls down and needs revisiting if we genuinely want to be winning trophies.

Coutinho is ready to move from top class to world class in the next few years. We need to make sure that is in a Liverpool shirt.

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