ONE of my favourite things about being a sports fan is the ability to watch any given thing for a short period of time and very quickly feel as though I’m an expert. I remember being in a sports bar in Nottingham once when tobogganing was on the TVs.
As you might expect, neither I nor any of my friends have ever been tobogganing. I’m not even sure I’m spelling it right, let alone that I could claim to know how it works. Yet after about 10 minutes of watching various incredibly well-trained athletes take on the toboggan course my mates and I were saying things like, “he’s taking corner three too quickly, here”.
I’ve noticed myself doing similar things whilst watching the Olympics. The other night I watched a girl doing somersaults, spins and jumps on a piece of equipment that was basically the width of a broom and then called her shit when she landed funny and wobbled a bit. I wobble a bit when I’m trying to get up off the settee, so I’m really not sure what I think I’m playing at.
But that’s the joy of being a sports fan. In a very small amount of time we can quickly become “experts” at what we’re watching, confidently explaining to our other half why it is that Jason Kenny wasn’t at fault for over-taking the shitty little bike and how he would have had gold tied up a lot sooner if he’d just put a bit more effort in on the straights.
The downside is that we often get stuck in a rut of amateur analysis, never quite progressing past that initial phase when we feel like we’ve learnt everything there is to know after about five minutes of observation. This is especially true when we’re watching a sport we’re incredibly familiar with, such as football.
Which brings me neatly on to Liverpool’s match against Arsenal at the weekend and, more specifically, Philippe Coutinho’s performance.
Listeners to The Anfield Wrap’s free show on Monday will have heard Mel Reddy say that Coutinho only had something like 38 touches at The Emirates during the opening day 4-3 thriller. Thirty-eight touches (including his second goal, above). For someone playing central. Imagine telling your armchair critic that fact without any other information. What would they say?
Thirty-eight touches seems like absolutely nothing for a professional footballer. It’s eight touches more than one touch every three minutes. How long does three minutes feel like when you’re watching a match? Bloody ages is the answer.
Now to be fair I should of course point out that the little magician went off 70 minutes into the match, so that’s worth bearing in mind. Still, it’s not far off a touch every two minutes instead, which still doesn’t seem like all that much when you think about it.
Yet as is so often the case, football makes fools of us all. It is, of course, completely irrelevant how many touches any given player has on the pitch. He could have three touches and score a hat-trick. The amount of touches don’t matter anywhere near as much as the quality of said touches.
That, dear reader, is where Coutinho is suddenly starting to excel.
Despite Daniel Sturridge being one of the most natural finishers in the league, Sadio Mané (pre-shoulder problem) looking like the new John Barnes and Emre Can developing into the Rolls Royce of a player we all expected him to become, it is still the little Brazilian that contains our hopes and dreams for the season inside his sparkly and dazzling boots.
Jordan Henderson has said this week that he thinks Coutinho has got what it takes to be spoken of in the same breath as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. Is he right? Is Coutinho that good?
I’m not sure right now, but there’s no question that his ceiling is exceptionally high. It’s worth remembering that he’s still only 24 and Suarez was 27 when he left for Barca. That’s not to say that the Brazilian will definitely hit the heights of the Uruguayan, obviously, but it gives you an idea of how far he’s still got to go.
Last year, he got his best ever goal return in professional football when he netted 12 times, having scored three, five and eight goals in previous campaigns in a red shirt. What can we hope for this time around, considering he’s already chalked two up? Would 15 be realistic? 20 even?
I’m always very reluctant at suggestions that a manager should “build a team around” one particular player. Coutinho hasn’t exactly been injury free, for example, and you can never tell when any player is going to have an off day. It also makes it easier for teams to disrupt your flow if you’re sending everything through the one man.
The thing that pleases me most about this Liverpool team, the thing that those wanting to see a marquee signing seem to be happy enough to ignore, is that we’ve now got options all over the show. For a Sturridge injury, turn to Divock Origi. If Henderson’s out then Georginio Wijnaldum’s around. When Coutinho has an off day then Mané might step up to the plate.
It brings it all back to the Olympics. Liverpool are no longer depending on one fella to produce something magical from the diving board. We’re not pinning all our hopes on a Mo Farah type, running until he drops.
Now we’re the team sprint cyclists, taking it in turns to be at the front of the peloton so that we can give the other fellas a rest. Coutinho is our Jason Kenny, with the rest of team knowing he’s the best but also aware he needs help to achieve his dream.
We know there’s only one way this metaphor ends — with gold.
Up the team sprinting Reds.
For podcasts on every Liverpool game this season, transfer gossip, the lowdown on new signings and more, subscribe to TAW Player for just £5 per month. Minimum sign-up is just one month. If it’s not for you, all you’ve shelled out is a fiver! More information here.
Our latest free show post-Arsenal is here – just press play!