LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 28, 2017: Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho Correia celebrates scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool and Southampton at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

WE’RE back where we started with Philippe Coutinho then.

Reports today suggest that the summer’s impasse over the player’s proposed move to Barcelona may be ending and that Liverpool FC’s top brass are softening their stance. Cited is that the rhetoric from the club is not now as unequivocal as it was back in August while reports in Spain claim the player believes he has played his last game for Liverpool.

But maybe a new strategy is being implemented on Merseyside.

Liverpool is not a club short of resource at this point in its history. Around £220million has been committed in the last six months to secure Virgil Van Dijk, Naby Keita, Mohamed Salah, Alex Chamberlain, Andy Robertson and Dominic Solanke. Cynics will say that this extravagance was only possible because the option of retro-funding by selling Coutinho was always planned.

This theory doesn’t hold up under even cursory scrutiny. Footballers are fragile assets. Mainly because they are human beings. There are a number of circumstances that could see Coutinho’s value plummet — injury, loss of form, changes in personal life.

What business rationally invests £220m on the basis of recouping that sum via a future pay-off that has a significant probability of not transpiring? If this is how Liverpool do business then it is reckless beyond belief. For all the concerns that exist over FSG’s stewardship of Liverpool Football Club, extravagant risk-taking isn’t one of them. If anything, over-caution has been a hallmark of their tenure.

The uncomplicated truth is that Liverpool have expended £220m on new players because they can afford to do just that. The club can also afford — and would very much like to retain — Coutinho.

Liverpool FC, the ownership, the management, would all very much like to find a way of persuading the player that his long-term future is at the club. There are reports that a new contract has been offered. Recently Coutinho has been awarded the captaincy for certain matches. Liverpool remain acutely aware though that their star player continues to be very committed to the idea of furthering his career at Barcelona.

Coutinho is under contract until 2022 so Liverpool still retain the best cards but the manager will point out to the club hierarchy that it’s increasingly difficult to work with an unhappy player. Jürgen Klopp’s daily reality has to be taken very seriously.

So what’s the club’s next actual move? Perhaps it’s to tell the player that it will sanction his sale but that it will be at a price and terms that reflects the upper end of his worth in the current market.

The club will seek to convince the player and his entourage that there is a figure below which they cannot be expected do business. Liverpool will make all of the right noises about wanting to “work with” Coutinho on this, but strictly on terms that all parties would deem “fair”.

Liverpool’s hand is strengthened by a bull transfer market. Kylian Mbappe’s transfer to Paris St Germain is worth around 180m euros. He’s only 19. Neymar moved for a world-record fee in excess of £200m (a fee considered to represent an undervalue because of a release clause).

Phil Coutinho is a player on fire. Scoring goals and making goals at the fastest rate in his career. The stage is set for him to light up the World Cup in Russia. Cases can be made to pitch his value today at anything from £150m upwards.

Barcelona, despite being armed with transfer proceeds from the sale of Neymar, were unable to find an offer to tempt Liverpool in the summer beyond £82m up front with £36m in add ons. And that figure was reportedly offered only in staged payments over several years.

Of course, we now know that Barcelona inflated the headline bid to £118m, to include those spurious add ons. Liverpool rebuffed this proposal and would surely be within in their rights to say to Coutinho that they are not duty bound to release him for a fee below market worth.

The poverty of Barcelona’s final offer of the summer transfer window exposes their hand. They are not cash rich, despite the Neymar deal. If they could barely find £82m in the summer why are they suddenly going to find the further c.£60m that would be required to tempt Liverpool now?

Liverpool’s best plan would to remain apparently reasonable, but resolute. They must effectively reach a “virtual” deal with the player and his agent. Liverpool must seek to gain agreement with Coutinho that should Barcelona’s proposals not reach a certain minimum that it can be accepted that they are not acting commercially.

In effect, Liverpool can set the stage for the player to become disillusioned with his suitor rather than the Reds. From that point, Liverpool potentially have a platform from which to persuade Coutinho to re-commit — in mind as much as on paper.

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Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo

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