“BARCELONA is one of the best teams in the world, so far, nothing has come to me because, if anything comes, it comes to my manager, what I have to do is focus on the pitch.
“I have a contract with Liverpool, there are two games, there are a lot of chances for us to be in the Champions League next year. What I have to do is focus on football and those things are resolved by the business people.”
The words of our Little Magician from before the West Ham game, there.
Not exactly “I don’t want to join Barcelona”, is it? Aside from anything else, it’s a bit mad that he’s implying that he has no say in where he plays football and it’s some murky “business people” who decide that for him. If that is the case, I think someone needs to report it to the authorities because he’s clearly the victim of a South American footballer trafficking ring.
On the basis that he does actually get to decide where he plays football each season, it’s only to be expected that a player from South America will, ultimately, some day want to go and play for Barcelona with his childhood mate and have the chance to play at Camp Nou and win a load of trophies. As much as we might hate it, clubs in England are always likely to be stepping stones to Spain for players like Philippe Coutinho.
The real questions are how long can we keep elite players like him for, and what can we achieve while those players are with us? Bearing in mind that even Manchester United lost their best player to Real Madrid when Alex Ferguson was their manager.
Those questions inevitably lead us to a conversation about the club’s owners and what their levels of ambition really are.
We’ve seen before that Fenway Sports Group are capable of digging their collective heels in when they feel like it, and I think we might be leading up to a month in which John Henry needs to be dusting down his smart phone and logging back into Twitter to throw out a dismissive tweet or two in the direction of southern Spain. We need to nip this one in the bud before it starts to grow legs and gain any momentum.
What do you think they're smoking over there at Emirates?
— John W. Henry (@John_W_Henry) July 24, 2013
As a club, it feels like we could be on the cusp of being back among the big boys after years in the wilderness. We have one of the best managers in Europe in charge of the football side of operations, with the owners having now put in place their own internal structure and executives to lead the business side in the way they want. On the pitch, we’re one win against an already relegated side from being back in the Champions League with a squad that has the potential to kick on with a few quality signings, and has already demonstrated that it relishes the challenge of taking on the biggest teams on the block. For once, it sounds like we might be able to drag the old ‘war chest’ out of the cupboard to dip into the coin collection for some big money signings.
The last thing we need given all of that is to sell one of our elite players just as he’s beginning to blossom.
I’ve always held onto the hope that Coutinho’s time at Inter will serve as a warning to him that things don’t always work out how you expect when moving to another big club, and as a result of his experience he’ll appreciate that what he’s got at Liverpool is special. He’s settled, has friends around him and plays every week as one of our most important players. He’s now been deployed in a deeper midfield general role from which he controlled the game and looked to me like he enjoyed himself, possibly more than at any other time this season.
My concern having read his quote from before the West Ham game, though, is that he might now have enough faith in his own ability to reassure him that moving to Barca will work out very differently now than moving to Inter as a young kid did all those years ago.
Despite that risk, we obviously have the trump card of Jürgen Klopp to play, and what by all accounts is somewhat of a paternal relationship that has developed between them. Those bonds should be difficult for him to break, especially if Klopp gets hold of him in one of those bear hugs and refuses to let him go.
For his part, only last week Jürgen said:
“When did he sign his new contract?! With a £400m clause!”
“There are absolutely no plans [to sell]. What our owners say is there is the absolute opportunity not to sell anybody if we do not want to. That means we can bring in other players and it is a good situation. We have a stable squad with a good basis.”
Having stated that aloud, you would hope that we’re beyond the point of any shenanigans being played behind the scenes and behind our manager’s back.
The most important thing is that the owners stick by the assurance given to Jürgen even if the Catalan giants come knocking with a huge cheque, not even if it’s like one of those really massive cheques that you get if you win the lottery. As an aside, we should also definitely not be tempted to do business in any way if they send a fax. Any club that tries to buy one of our players via fax should be sent a message to their Chief Executive’s pager telling them that the ‘80s called and wants its technology back.
It’s vital at this stage of our rebirth that we put to bed any reputation that we have as being a selling club. Notwithstanding that every club becomes a selling club if the price is right, in recent years we’ve become the equivalent of Southampton for those clubs currently above us in the food chain. The issue with that is that if we ever want to be back at the top table looking down, we need to have at least a summer or two where the only players who have to pack their belongings from Melwood into a cardboard box are those who our manager deems to no longer be of service.
If Coutinho moves on this summer, we’ll be sending out the wrong message to those players we’re trying to attract. After all, the days of selling the club to a player because he can play with Steven Gerrard are long gone, so we need as many Coutinhos as we can get to create the virtuous circle required to attract better and better players each year (not literally more Coutinhos, obviously. I’m sure most other lads called Phil Coutinho aren’t as good at football as the one we’ve got, although it might be an interesting scouting policy to trial).
There’s no doubt that we’ve seen the Barcelona charm offensive machine starting to click into motion in recent months, with various ex-players taking turns to ‘randomly’ point Coutinho out as a perfect Barca player. Whether that has turned Coutinho’s head (along with his old best mate talking up a move when they’re on international duty together) remains to be seen, but the reality from our perspective is that he only signed a new contract in January and the reports suggest that there aren’t any specific buy-out clauses in it, meaning that we are very much in the box seat to keep hold of him if we are so inclined.
In my view, once he’s helped to destroy Middlesbrough next week, we should hang the biggest ‘Not For Sale’ sign we can find around his neck and get as many ex-Liverpool players as we can to talk to the Spanish press telling them how much of a Liverpool player he is and how he’ll be here for the rest of his life, followed by a single tweet from Mr Henry just saying “Do one, Barca”.
Anything less than that and I worry that messrs Henry and Werner might never be safe to open social media.
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) May 15, 2017