AFTER a tedious and drawn-out transfer saga, Philippe Coutinho rejoined his Liverpool teammates in full training at Melwood on Thursday.
The Brazilian appeared in high spirits, with Jürgen Klopp confirming he had a very positive chat with the player to clear the air.
Despite constant insistence from Spanish media outlets and Twitter “ITKs” that a deal was done for Coutinho to join the Catalan club, Liverpool remained absolutely adamant in their stance that he would not be going anywhere this summer. It was made abundantly clear both by Klopp himself and with an official statement from the owners, Fenway Sports Group.
No release clause on the five-year deal penned by Coutinho in January this year meant all the power was with Liverpool and despite efforts from the player’s camp to engineer a move by creating nonsense stories about his supposedly damaged relationship with Klopp, Liverpool would not budge. And rightly so.
With Neymar’s £198 million move to Paris Saint-Germain throwing the entire transfer market out of control, Barcelona’s derisory offers for Coutinho, including absurd clauses and improbable add ons, were never going to alter Liverpool’s stance. While there is an acceptance that Coutinho will probably move on next summer, now was not the time for Liverpool to be selling one of their most prized assets with so little time to find an adequate replacement.
It was an important precedent to set — that Liverpool are not a selling club and will not be bullied into doing business when it doesn’t suit them. With Naby Keita already secured for July 2018, Liverpool already have a top-class midfielder in the bag and the situation around Coutinho may well be different by then. This summer, though, was about building on the foundations laid down last season, and that meant keeping Coutinho at all costs.
Plenty of fans have taken to social media to voice their anger and frustration at Coutinho’s actions and the way he disrespected the club. A dubious back injury ruled him out of Liverpool’s opening five fixtures of the season, including a crucial Champions League qualifier against Hoffenheim. Yet as soon as the international break arrived, he was immediately fit again and scoring for Brazil. It doesn’t quite add up.
No one blames Coutinho for being keen on a move to Barcelona. Who wouldn’t? Yet the timing of his transfer request — submitted by email — on the eve of Liverpool’s opening game against Watford, cast a dark cloud over what should have been a time of great optimism for the new season.
Aside from conceding a stoppage-time equaliser at Vicarage Road, Liverpool have had almost the perfect start to the season in Coutinho’s absence, dispatching Hoffenheim with relative ease, also picking up consecutive wins and clean sheets against Crystal Palace and Arsenal at Anfield — the latter demonstrating the serious credentials of this side, even without the Brazilian.
What Liverpool have shown is that the front three of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are a devastating trio who will wreak havoc against virtually any defence they come up against, while the midfield anchored by Jordan Henderson, supported by the athletic and hard-working Gini Wijnaldum and Emre Can, has finally clicked into gear and is a formidable force to be reckoned with.
Liverpool can certainly cope in the absence of Coutinho, but his reintegration into the side is nothing but a positive and once Klopp deems him ready for first-team action, his presence will be a significant boost for the team. His guile, creativity and ability to unlock defences with his outstanding vision and technique make him an incredibly exciting prospect feeding the likes of Mane and Salah in front. We saw at the back end of last season how influential he is when playing in central midfield and we can expect to see plenty of that this season.
Coutinho’s return gives Klopp different options and adds depth to his attacking armoury, along with the arrival of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and with the eventual return of Adam Lallana still to come. There is a wealth of talented midfielders for Klopp to choose from and with the Champions League schedule soon to kick in, rotation will become a necessity.
There is no time to be sentimental about a player of Coutinho’s ability and suggestions that he ought to be “taught a lesson” in the manner of Mamadou Sakho are forgetting just how good a player he is and how much his presence can help Liverpool achieve success this season.
Footballers are, for the most part, in it for themselves and don’t share the same affinity to the club as we do. They have a short career and want to reach the highest level possible, and as much as the cliche has become tiresome — that means playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid, particularly for many South American players. We can waste time and energy venting our anger at how Coutinho treated the club that made him the player he is, but it’s just how football works. Loyalty is an increasingly rare commodity.
Coutinho may well get that big move one day, but the fact remains that for now, he is a Liverpool player and he is one of the best in this league. Whether it was himself, Barcelona or his “entourage” behind all the theatrics of the transfer saga is no longer a debate worth having.
He’s still ours, for now, and as soon as he’s back in the groove with Firmino, Mane, Salah and co., curling shots into the top corner, all will be forgiven and forgotten.