THERE’S an interesting vogue among a section of Liverpool supporters at the moment. They’ve decided that Fenway Sports Group are penny pinching stingebags who won’t spend any money this summer, in spite of reports from the likes of Paul Joyce that they are happy to do exactly that.
This is not a column about the merits or otherwise of the spend argument. All I will say on the matter is that the Reds could have ended last summer with a negative net spend really easily; all we needed to do was not sell Christian Benteke, Jordon Ibe and Martin Skrtel. That way we wouldn’t have got the £47.5 million in from their sales and finished the summer with a net spend of around -£25m.
The problem with that, of course, is that we’d also still have Christian Benteke, Jordon Ibe and Martin Skrtel in our squad and I’m not sure many could have handled that kind of stupidity. I’m perfectly fine with the argument that we should have re-invested the money from the sale of those players, but the notion that FSG don’t spend money is demonstrably false.
Why am I talking about player sales and net spend? Because the old argument about selling our ‘best player’ has reared its ugly head again, this time in the form of Philippe Coutinho. Rumours of the Brazilian moving to Barcelona in the summer have been swirling around for some months now, with Neymar telling the press this week that he can picture his Brazil team-mate playing at the Nou Camp in the near future. (That’s weird in itself, considering Neymar’s meant to be moving to Manchester United for £700m or some nonsense).
There are so many moving parts to that deal happening that it’s tricky for me to get my head around. Firstly, Luis Enrique is stepping down as Barca manager at the end of the season. Who is going to come in to replace him? The rumour mill thinks Sevilla’s Jorge Sampaoli will be high on the list. If that’s the case, is Coutinho the sort of player that fits with his style of play? If it’s not him then who will it be? Another name linked with the position is Juan Carlos Unzue, the current assistant manager. Does he like the look of Coutinho for his starting 11?
Neither the press nor the bookmakers seem to have a clear idea who it is that will be taking over the Nou Camp hot seat, which suggests that the Barcelona hierarchy isn’t 100 per cent decided on who they want to take over the job. Are they all that likely to have drawn up a list of transfer targets before they even know who will be in the dugout for the start of the 2017-18 La Liga season? Maybe, but no one can say that for certain. It’s just a bit of leaping in the dark and adding two and two together to get 14.
Next there’s the question of whether or not Coutinho would be happy to leave Anfield. Unlike many players, he’s already had his time at a ‘top’ club in Europe. He spent three years at Inter Milan and made less than 30 league appearances for them. He was never happy and spent his middle year on loan at Espanyol where he scored more goals in less appearances than during his entire time at the San Siro. Does he walk straight into the Barcelona team? I’m not convinced. Having spent time as part of a squad in Italy he may well feel he’s too good now to walk away from being a first-team regular.
Then there’s the elephant in the room: is he even our best player any more? Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than aware how good is he when he’s on song and I’m not even remotely advocating his sale. Yet I’m also not convinced that your best player should go missing for a couple of months just because he was out injured for a while. It will be interesting to see in the coming weeks whether we suffer more without Adam Lallana than we did without Coutinho or Sadio Mané earlier in the season. That’s to say nothing of how obvious the captain’s absence has been, even if those that dislike him refuse to admit it.
I was intrigued to see @BrazilStats tweeting in the wake of Brazil’s win over Paraguay that Coutinho has been ‘magical’ for his home nation over the last week or so of internationals. Will he come back to Liverpool in that same vein of form, or will we see the lesser version of the midfielder that we’ve had to watch over the last couple of months? When the Little Magician is on song he might well be our best player, but when he’s as out of sorts as he has been recently he’s as close to an empty shirt as it’s possible for a player to be.
Liverpool supporters might not want to admit it, but there’s a chance that he doesn’t actually fit Jürgen Klopp’s style of play. He isn’t the same close-down, harass and annoy style player as Roberto Firmino is, for example, and at times I think James Milner can be a bit exposed if the Brazilian doesn’t hustle back to help out his team-mate quickly enough. Fans will be quick to jump on FSG’s back if Coutinho is sold this summer, but what if Klopp sanctions the move because he has his eye on a player who better suits his system? Is there an argument that that would be the right move, rather than the wrong one?
Transfers happen for all sorts of reasons. Not long ago we witnessed Raheem Sterling’s agent essentially tell the club his player would not be returning to Anfield come hell or high water, so the club was left little choice but to sell him. Luis Suarez wanted to move to Arsenal but was persuaded to stay for one more season by Steven Gerrard. Like it or not, there would have been no forcing him to stay for yet another year after that. Christian Benteke might well have been happy to stay on Merseyside and prove his worth, but Klopp decided he wasn’t right and moved him on. Very few were crying over that one.
If Coutinho moves to Barcelona this summer I’m very aware that it sends a bad signal about the manner in which the club allows its best talent to leave. Yet I also realise that the reason for his move might not be cut and dry. Was it his choice? Was it the manager’s? Is he playing poorly for us at the moment because he doesn’t fit Klopp’s playing style or because his head’s been turned by rumours of a move to Spain? Of all the possible variables I find it hard to believe that it will be because FSG forced him out of the club.
Instead of losing our shit over something that hasn’t happened yet. I’m inclined to believe we should wait and see what happens. If he goes, why did he go? Who comes in to replace him? How do they fit into the team? No one expected Gini Wijnaldum to play where he’s played or to be the player he’s become, yet he might be our player of the season. Mané was looked down upon for being from Southampton and for not being Mario Götze. How did that one work out?
The Coutinho question is an interesting one, but let’s leave the hand-wringing until we know what’s actually happened.