NABY Keita is not Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho is not Keita.
There is a glee abounding that Liverpool are about to get a taste of the medicine they’ve been pushing Southampton and RB Leipzig’s way all summer. That just as Liverpool have turned the heads of those club’s star turns, Virgil van Dijk and Keita, they now face the equivalent temptation being pushed the way of their main man Coutinho.
The Reds may represent an appealing career move for van Dijk and Keita, but Barcelona are the zenith of any ambitions, particularly for Latin footballers. That Barca will have Coutinho dreaming is a certainty.
But knowing all of this does not mean Keita and van Dijk are as likely or unlikely to secure desired moves as Coutinho is. There is not yet, at least, true parity in the respective situations.
Football’s abiding cliche is that a club can’t keep an unhappy player. Well they can if his suitor is simply taking the piss, like not offering a fair market price to purchase the player’s registration. Barca are not being unreasonable in placing a water-testing bid, but their offer of £72million is — in today’s terms — bordering on an insult.
They can want Coutinho to replace or augment Neymar all they like, and Phil himself may say that playing for the Catalan club would represent a dream fulfilled, but the fact remains that professional footballers are assets of big corporations. No other serious industry would be expected to dispose of an asset below market value for anything approaching sentimental reasons.
Coutinho’s value in this market is hard to assess. Kylian Mbappe, at 18 years old with all the potential and risk involved, is valued north of €125m by Monaco. Decent but far from world-class full back Kyle Walker has seen his value crystallised at £50m. Coutinho is worth far more than Walker and is a surer bet than Mbappe, while still having lots of years left to improve and enhance his value.
So what price? £100m feels too cheap, and £130/140m doesn’t sound out of court. Let’s split the difference to some extent and pitch Phil’s value at £120m then. If Barca had started the bidding at £95-100m with a view to getting towards that £120m after a few weeks of posturing, then it would be reasonable for Coutinho to knock on Jürgen Klopp’s office door and ask him to give their offers some serious consideration.
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) July 21, 2017
Barca though have started at £72m. Are they really stealing themselves to finish up by paying Liverpool a further 75-80 per cent more than that figure? It seems improbable. Coutinho, in turn, cannot therefore expect his current club to just take his departure as an inevitability.
Keita was spoken of as being in the £50m bracket as recently as May. In June, someone at Leipzig suggested to Bild magazine in Germany that only an €80m offer would turn their heads. Liverpool opened the bidding at around £57m and quickly upped it to £66m. Leipzig may resist all overtures for their main midfielder but what sporting director Ralf Rangnick will have to concede when Keita picks up the phone directly to him is that the club of Naby’s dreams are putting proper money down on the table. Due respect is being shown for the football club’s asset value.
Keita can say, and Coutinho cannot, that his desire to fulfil his ambitions would lead to his current club being more than appropriately compensated. He can look Rangnick in the eye and argue that he is being held back. He can say that not selling at any price is a disrespectful position. If Liverpool pay €80m for Keita it is a deal with no losers.
Neither Keita nor Coutinho may ultimately get their desired transfers this summer. The odds currently seem stacked against either eventuality. Thus far though, the two situations are not as comparable as most analysts seem in a rush to register. Liverpool are behaving like serious players in a crazily bullish market. Barca, for all their reputation and prestige, are as yet simply not.
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