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The Coutinho Saga Continues

Another transfer window is open, and not a single day will likely pass without discussing Philippe Coutinho’s desired moved to Barcelona. LFC Transfer Room’s Sumit Haldar (@Sumwitter) has the latest on the numbers, the allure, and who has the advantage.

Last summer, Barcelona did all they could to tempt Liverpool to sell the Brazilian. When that failed, they turned to a barrage of underhanded tactics, leveraging the Catalan media, and releasing unsettling stories at the worst possible times for the club. But nothing worked.

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Fenway Sports Group, and John Henry in particular, dug in their heels and refused to budge on more than one offer, with the last one reportedly rising to £118 million including add-ons. Since last summer, plenty has taken place behind closed doors in an effort to persuade Coutinho to commit to long-term future at the club. Needless to say, his desire to move on remains as strong as ever.

Following the trend

The lure of Spanish giants like Barcelona and Real Madrid is enormous for most South American footballers. The attraction was not so strong in the ’80s, when players like Zico, Junior, and Socrates dazzled Serie A.

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In the ’90s, however, Spain started becoming the dream destination, with players like Bebeto and Romario plying their trade there. This tradition was followed by Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and modern day greats like Lionel Messi and Neymar.

Brazil’s joga bonita is cherished by the Catalans and, in return, Brazilians prefer Barcelona.

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Argentina’s leading sports columnist, Fernandez Moores, said, “We can say that Argentines have built old and modern history of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Real’s legend was born with Di Stefano, while Barcelona’s was re-established with Lionel Messi — so part of the local preference for the Spanish rivals can be understood from this.”

Brazil’s Coutinho is no exception to this rich heritage and legacy. After an unsuccessful spell at Inter Milan, Coutinho moved to Liverpool in the 2012-13 season. In the last five years, he has scored 54 goals in 156 games. He is considered to be one of the best creative players of the modern era.

Yet during his spell at Liverpool, a lack of trophies and a lack of ambition from the club have not gone unnoticed.  He is not the only one, as before him, the likes of Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez left Anfield for more glory.

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Even the great Steven Gerrard considered leaving Liverpool for Real Madrid.

Perhaps Barcelona’s long-term vision to build around the little Magician as the heir to Andres Iniesta is a more attractive career move for Coutinho.

Liverpool’s stance

£118 million was the highest bid in summer, but based on the latest reports, that number could go north of £150 million in January.

Regardless of the financial offers, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool have made decisions based on football sense and vision. The club’s recent transfer activities were all geared toward putting the missing pieces in the right areas to make Liverpool a serious title contender next season. Virgil Van Dijk’s signing is one bold step in that direction.

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Losing Coutinho in the summer wouldn’t have made sense with no like-for-like replacements in sight.

Over the last four months, the club diligently worked on convincing Coutinho to commit to their long-term project; however, with his unflinching desire to play for Barca, Liverpool Football Club now will not stand between Coutinho and his dream.

That being said, the club’s interest is more important and it should always be, as Klopp recently referenced.

“The club is bigger than anybody. That is the most important thing.”

Summer was not the “right time” for Coutinho to leave. But since then, enough homework has been done to short-list potetial replacements. Possible names being batted around are Thomas Lemar, Leon Goretzka, Riyad Mahrej, Nabil Fekir, and Christian Pulisic, though each with its varying degree of reliability.

FSG will not make another “Suarez” mistake and let Coutinho go without a replacement coming in. They will wait for the right moment and the right price and, as Klopp has alluded, “everybody has a price.”

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The club is more stable financially than it was two seasons ago, with progress in Champion’s league and a top four birth both realistic goals for this year. That being said, Coutinho is a vital cog in driving Liverpool toward this season’s goals.

A win-win situation would be to keep him until the end of the season while being open to the “right price” for next season.

What is the “right price?”

Even to football fans who were used to the soaring transfer costs in the last several years, the number £198 million was incredible.

That was the release clause for Neymar Jr. to move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain.

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This is a whopping 138% more than the eye-raising £89 million paid by Manchester United to Juventus for Paul Pogba in 2016 — a record at the time.

The inevitable consequence of this price is that the transfer market has very much become a seller’s market. So much so that fullbacks Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy became the most expensive defenders in the history this summer, both at a market value more than £50m.

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The latest update, of course, is van Dijk’s £75 million transfer to Liverpool from Southampton.

In this inflated market, Barcelona are looking to find two high-profile players in Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho. Given Barca’s highest rejected bid for Coutinho during the summer was £82 million, the cash outlay for the Spanish giants could be closer to £120 million and above this time around.

Realistically speaking, Barcelona have to shell out £220 million or more for the two players on their short-list.

Can they afford it? No.

The only way Barcelona can pursue these two players is if they can get decent prices for their own surplus players, making it more difficult for Barcelona now than it was in the summer.

There is plenty for Barcelona to ponder before the next bid. As for Liverpool, they still hold the trump card and all the power.



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