“HE’S been the most professional person I’ve seen all season.
“He’s been top quality from the start and every time he gets on the pitch he does his all for the club and that’s the most important thing right now.
“It’s not fair to ask those kind of questions I don’t think. He gives his all every game and that’s all we can ask from him.”
That interjection from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been praised by many following what has already been relentless questioning of Philippe Coutinho’s future despite there being two weeks until the January transfer window swings open.
With that in mind, it would seem Jürgen Klopp isn’t the only one growing increasingly tired of questions over the number 10’s future at Liverpool, with some members of the press understandably forcing a storyline that suggests Barcelona may be tempted to go back in with an offer in January, having failed to break the club’s resolve in the summer.
At the time, many supporters scoffed at the Catalan club’s valuation of The Reds’ boss Brazilian, and probably saved a wry smile for what looked like the beginnings of a struggle for Barca — as they continued to fall further behind Zinedine Zidane’s high-flying Real Madrid side.
But that has all changed now. Table-topping Barcelona are doing their best Manchester City impression in La Liga, with Zidane’s lads 11 points astray in fourth. In the Champions League, the La Liga leaders’ first-placed finish in Group D earned them a last 16 tie with Chelsea, while Madrid got the tie of the round against Paris Saint-Germain having lost out on top spot to Tottenham Hotspur.
All of a sudden, Ernesto Valverde’s side look all the more attractive as a prospect, making Coutinho’s comments, about what he called “a job offer” and his admission that “sometimes you get interested”, all the more ominous as the New Year approaches.
If there is any resentment over Coutinho being denied his dream move he hasn’t let it show. While the amateur body language experts attempt to pick out things they see on the pitch to try and spin a story, a return of 10 goals and eight assists this season paints a different picture.
As Oxlade-Chamberlain so eloquently said on Sunday, we can’t ask for much more than the Brazilian has given this season. While often our vision can be tinted by rose-coloured specs, what Coutinho’s use of the word “job” did do was hammer the point home about how this is just a career move for many footballers.
The post-match interviewer on Sky Sports spoke about the feeling of being able to play with the great players that make up Liverpool’s attack, and the truth of the matter is that, for a lad from Rio de Janeiro playing in a country over 5,000 miles from his home, that might be what gives him job satisfaction. He could never love the club like we do. While history and status can raise a Red smile, Coutinho can point to close to 200 games for Liverpool and not a medal to show for it.
Right now, who’s arsed if he doesn’t smile from ear to ear as he sends six Bournemouth players for the Echo before slamming the ball home — rinsing and repeating game after game?
He’s a professional doing a job at the end of the day. His comments suggest as much.
It’s clear to see from Klopp’s comments in recent times, that there has been a change in tune after the events over the course of the summer.
In the previous window, Klopp was always quick to publicly quash any talk of Coutinho leaving the club, and it went so far along the line that even Fenway Sports Group chose to release a statement which reiterated: “The club’s definitive stance is that no offers for Philippe will be considered and he will remain a member of Liverpool Football Club when the summer window closes.”
That coupled with the information Coutinho wouldn’t be looking to force a move, despite being open to what would have been a dream move to the Camp Nou, had Liverpool in a strong position.
But the landscape changed. FSG’s statement came on one of the most eventful days off the pitch in The Reds’ recent history. Sky Sports were the first to break the news that Coutinho had handed in a transfer request, though local journalists dowsed those flames of panic — insistent that the club’s stance hadn’t changed and Coutinho wouldn’t be forcing a move away.
Except the information Sky Sports had received turned out to be correct. Possibly fed by somebody from Coutinho’s camp, or even on Barca’s side of the fence, the local journalists began to report that the Brazilian had indeed handed in a transfer request — not that it changed the club’s stance.
Possibly as a result of the PR damage from that particular incident, coupled with the mess that was the Virgil van Dijk saga, Liverpool have kept their transfer cards closer to their chest with January approaching.
That has inevitably created headlines such as “Klopp refuses to rule out a move”, but if nothing else at least it shows the club have learnt lessons from the last window.
Another thing they need to take away from the summer is that January is just as important a time, if not more so, to keep hold of your best players.
Even though Man City have made the Premier League title race a no contest, Liverpool still have it all to play for in the places behind them. The Reds also have the last 16 of the Champions League and potential FA Cup dates to look forward to — if they can do what they didn’t against Everton at Anfield in the league.
Coutinho remains an absolutely crucial part of this Liverpool side, as recent performances against Brighton, Bournemouth and Spartak Moscow — in which he got his first Liverpool hat trick — have shown.
The fact Coutinho is cup tied in the Champions League would hopefully be enough to ward off Barcelona but they may want to capitalise on the fact they’re in a good spot right now, which they can’t guarantee next summer — as Neymar’s surprise move to PSG showed in the last window.
Losing such a talented player midway through the season would leave The Reds scraping the barrel to find a replacement. As Klopp himself has admitted in the past, January isn’t the time for top players to change hands. The chances of finding the right man to replace Coutinho are slim to none generally, so the risk of panic buying a replacement is even greater in the winter window — just look at Fernando Torres’ sale and the arrival of Andy Carroll as a prime example.
Ultimately, a January sale makes even less sense than a summer sale. Liverpool are making all the right strides to start challenging for league titles and even European honours once again. They’re looking to be ambitious on and off the pitch. Selling Coutinho now would show a severe lack of ambition.
Let’s act like a big club, Reds. See sense and tell Barca where to go once again.