THE Philippe Coutinho saga has given Liverpool Football Club a lot to think about over the course of the summer.
Comparisons have been made between the Brazilian’s situation and that of Luis Suarez’s Arsenal saga or even Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keita and their deadlocked moves to Anfield. But, after Barcelona’s incredible Sunday 7pm ultimatum for The Reds to change their stance over Coutinho passed by, the dust finally appears to be settling in terms of his short-term future at the club.
Barring another bid, all that is left now is for Coutinho’s mystery-shrouded back problems to clear up and Jürgen Klopp to begin the process of reintegrating him into the squad. There have been doubts over the mindset of the 25-year-old since he decided he would attempt to force through a move to the Camp Nou.
But with a World Cup on the horizon and given the damage that nine months of protesting could do to his reputation, it’s unlikely he will do anything other than get his head down over the course of the season — especially if he wants the opportunity of a “big” move to present itself again in future.
Even beyond that point, questions may remain about his commitment after having his head turned by the Catalan club. Klopp has always emphasised that he only wants to work with players who have 100 per cent commitment to the cause and want to be at the club. Throw in the bizarre suggestions of a breakdown in relations, and that is where some have started to draw comparisons to Mamadou Sakho’s standing at Liverpool.
The Frenchman was a fan favourite before he took a fat burner without the club’s knowledge that caused UEFA to launch an investigation. Sakho’s actions meant he missed the run in to the Europa League final and the Euros in his home country, although he was eventually portrayed as the victim when the investigation was dropped.
It’s worth remembering that, whether or not the substances contained in the fat burner were on UEFA’s banned list, Sakho was having problems maintaining his weight and took something without consulting the club’s experts. It was an unnecessary risk, there are people specifically employed to try and help the players keep in shape and Sakho was clearly not doing what he should have been. That in itself is unprofessional behaviour.
That may have been enough for Klopp to decide he wasn’t committed enough — it’s not unreasonable to expect the highest standards from every player at the club. But the manager decided to give Sakho another chance and reintegrate him into the squad for their pre-season tour of America.
Perhaps not realising the already thin ice he was skating on, the former Paris Saint-Germain defender nearly missed the team’s flight, skipped a rehabilitation session and was late to a team meal before being sent home by Klopp. In the manager’s eyes the player was showing a further lack of professionalism and was doing little to redeem himself for his previous misconduct.
Some supporters thought that the German was looking to make an example of somebody and that Sakho had made himself an easy target but the truth was that he wasn’t achieving the standards that are expected of anybody who is lucky enough to pull on the red shirt. That was before he decided to voice his frustrations over Snapchat on the day of Liverpool’s first home game of 2016-17 against Leicester City and then refused the opportunity to rescue his reputation by going out on loan.
For those reasons there should be no way back for Sakho, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the same should apply to Coutinho. The biggest gripe for Klopp will be the timing of the transfer request, coming just the day before The Reds’ season opener at Watford. There were suggestions that Barca had specifically advised their target that unsettling the pack would make a move easier. In reality it only hardened Liverpool’s stance.
ESTADÃO:#Coutinho‘s entourage confirms he never had the will to not play for Liverpool but had to follow his representatives instructions.
— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStat) 21 August 2017
Whether through bad advice or personal decision, there is definitely no smoke without a fire where Coutinho’s future is concerned. It was his decision to email a transfer request to Michael Edwards and therefore it was he who decided the best time to do so would be on the eve of the opening day. Some will argue that his actions in this saga have been unprofessional and they would have genuine reason for doing so.
But to argue that he should be cast aside in the same manner as Sakho is something of an overreaction — and it’s got nothing to do with the ability of either player, though the Frenchman does appear to have been artificially elevated in that respect since being out of the picture. Coutinho’s behaviour is questionable at best but by comparison it’s akin to his first strike — which in Sakho’s case could either be walking out on the team after not being selected for the derby under Brendan Rodgers or allowing himself to become overweight and taking a pill without the club’s consent.
What will be telling is how Coutinho reacts once the window closes. If the reports are true and Barca have relinquished their interest, he will have to put up with being a Liverpool player until at least next summer — it seems implausible that Klopp would be happier to lose one of his star players in the middle of the season than he has been to do so in the opening month.
Ultimately the decision comes down to Klopp. He will be best placed to assess how Coutinho reacts to being denied his dream move and will be the one who decides whether he deserves to come back into the fold.
The Brazilian will be given that opportunity. Sakho has already spurned his.
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