DAN Morgan contributed an excellent piece about Philippe Coutinho to The Anfield Wrap website recently and I could completely understand the sentiment, writes SIMON ALKIN.
It seems to me to be one shared by the majority of the fanbase. Broadly speaking (and this of course glosses over the eloquence with which his piece was written), he wrote about how our hearts have hardened over time through the years of broken loyalty, both towards and from the club, and inglorious departures, from Robbie Fowler to Fernando Torres to Luis Suarez to Steven Gerrard. He also reiterated the idea (one with which I broadly agree) that if Coutinho truly does knuckle down and that helps the club to have a great season, then it will become a lot easier to forgive him in the long run.
However, after reading I felt the need to try to present a not necessarily contradictory, but alternative, viewpoint and express just why some of us will find it a challenge to truly forgive or respect the player again.
To me, the notion that fans are hurt at him wanting to leave the club in the first place is a red herring. Of course any of us reading or writing on this site adore Liverpool and would love to believe that there’s nowhere better. As Jamie Carragher famously, brilliantly, once put it: “who’s bigger than Liverpool?”.
But none of us are stupid. We’re aware (sometimes too aware, but that’s another discussion) of footballing realities and the idea of a certain hierarchy in the European game. A fading force they may be, but to most players, Barcelona are unquestionably a bigger draw than us. This is especially true for a kid who’s grown up in Rio with no sentimental connection to Liverpool. Coutinho wanting a move to Barcelona is what I’d expect, and it would be naive in the extreme to think he wouldn’t. That’s football and anybody demanding absolute allegiance, or that a player should love the club as much as we do, is dreaming.
Another idea that distracts from, or misses, the point, is that too many fans idolise the individual and are sad or hurt by the prospect of their hero leaving. This possibly harks back to Torres departing for Chelsea under a cloud and in doing so, breaking the hearts of Reds the world over. It would certainly be fair to say that many resolved never to become too attached to individual players again after that episode. Speaking personally I couldn’t care less about the individual, and haven’t really since I was a teenager, my only true love for the players is in how they serve this club.
But neither point, whether myth or reality, should deflect from Coutinho’s actions, or distract from the real bone of contention for some of us. That is, the manner in which he has gone about things.
To me, the absolute flagrant disrespect and contempt for the club for refusing to simply bow to his wish (in an extremely tough situation) strays dangerously close to unforgivable. I can’t help feeling there’s been too much of a shoulder shrug among fans and media, as if to say, “well, modern football’s desensitised us to this, there’s nothing surprising in it anymore; better just take it and we’ll love him like before when he starts banging goals again.”
Perhaps my thinking is a little rose tinted, but it just feels strange to me to accept that players can seemingly do whatever they like these days, even deliberately spoiling their club’s preparations, only to be forgiven because they might come back and do their jobs after all the nonsense dies down.
I for one won’t forget Coutinho’s transfer request less than 24 hours before our first match of the season, designed to cause maximum distraction and disruption. I won’t forget his camp leaking negative (and likely false) stories to Sky about his bad relationship with Jürgen Klopp, completely undermining a man under whom he’s enjoyed the best form of his career. I won’t forget him missing weeks of vitally important games with a “back injury” only to then fly halfway around the world and play for his country.
Even Virgil van Dijk served Southampton notice from the start of the summer that he wanted to move, rather than dropping that particular bomb right before his club’s first game. Even Alexis Sanchez has made himself available for selection and not leaked stories about his manager. Even Suarez in 2013, for all his agitating and disrespect, could claim he’d had verbal promises broken, and was denied a move after his release clause was met. Coutinho signed a huge deal this year with no such conditions and can’t cling to any of the above as mitigation.
You’d rather be a support act to Lionel Messi than be a headliner here? Fine, no one can condemn you for that. Careers are short and nobody demands that you hang around forever. You treat the club with respect and they’ll almost certainly grant your wish as soon as the situation works for both sides. But even the most basic, minimum levels of that respect have been absolutely trampled upon and I’d argue the player’s behaviour has been nothing less than a disgrace. The idea that this is modern football and that we’ve seen it all before shouldn’t make it OK. A line has been crossed here, maybe worse than we’ve ever seen before.
Dan’s right when he says that Coutinho may still be able to leave with his head held high, maybe even with many of the fans singing his name. We’re unquestionably a better team with him in it, and taking Liverpool back to the top, if only as a fleeting, perfect, parting moment would surely grant absolution. But we’ve all got a long way to go to get there. Suarez blasted his way back to favour, though it took one of the great individual seasons in club history and a thrilling title challenge to earn it. Time for some serious fence mending, Phil.
Up the redemption Reds.