As soon as it became clear that Barcelona would have around £200 million burning a hole in their pocket then it was known one or two unlucky clubs would then face an onslaught as Barcelona look to reinvest the money brought in from Neymar’s sale to Paris Saint-Germain.
Liverpool are one such team with the Catalan giants trying desperately to sign Philippe Coutinho from the Anfield club before the La Liga season starts on August 18. The Brazilian is known to be eager to make the switch although Liverpool aren’t expecting him to make things difficult for the club that has developed him well over the past three and a half years.
Now this is likely to be an opinion that won’t be heard too much on Merseyside but Coutinho is actually replaceable for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool but given how close we are to the start of the season and the fact the market has exploded in terms of fees this year, he isn’t necessarily replaceable this summer.
His number 10 position no longer of utmost importance
The Brazilian is a supremely talented footballer, of that there can be no doubt, but like so many no.10’s in the current game there isn’t a natural position for him to excel in.
The era of the diminutive no.10 being the most important player on the teamsheet has now passed. Lionel Messi was the pioneer of this role’s return to prominence under Pep Guardiola but now it just isn’t in vogue.
Coutinho is a player that now has to be used elsewhere be that on the wing or in a deeper midfield position and there are issues with both of these.
He isn’t a natural winger, he doesn’t have the same burst of speed he had as a really young player before Internazionale signed him from Vasco da Gama whilst he is somewhat of a defensive liability in the heart of midfield.
Now make no mistake he is an excellent footballer and is good enough to play any of these positions acceptably but is he a £100 million player? Not in a normal market.
Can he improve Barca?
The inflated market means his price will go up should Barcelona tempt Liverpool to sell with a ludicrous offer but it is difficult to see how he improves Los Cules.
A Neymar replacement he does not make and nor is he a natural successor to Andres Iniesta in the centre of midfield.
Sergio Busquets has started to receive less and less defensive help from his midfield partners as Iniesta has aged and Xavi has departed the club and whilst Iniesta was able to contribute as one of the truly finest players Spain has ever produced, Coutinho isn’t at that level.
His arrival would only put more pressure on Busquets and make the team infinitely more unbalanced as they look to push Real Madrid again in pursuit of the Spanish title.
At Liverpool he fits in more due to the lack of comparable quality around him but in a Jurgen Klopp system it is very easy to see a front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah as comfortably better suited to their coach’s style.
Not a perfect fit
Coutinho gets by on natural talent, he isn’t a perfect fit in such a team and it isn’t a stretch to say Liverpool were in more trouble when they were without Mane for a stretch of time last year than when the Brazilian was absent.
Balance is absolutely crucial in the Premier League and if Liverpool had been able to sign Naby Keita from RB Leipzig to dovetail with Emre Can with Jordan Henderson’s resourcefulness sat just behind them, then it would be easy to see the Reds as serious title challengers provided the defence improved.
There is power in that midfield as well as attacking prowess in both Can and Keita but everything is in equal measure. The attacking trio would be left to totally blow teams away and defensively Liverpool would in theory be given more protection.
Swapping Keita out and leaving Coutinho in midfield just makes the team weaker. Perhaps not in terms of star quality and creativity but there is no balance there.
In the same way you wouldn’t want Juan Mata playing in a deep midfield position, Coutinho is in the same bracket. Trying to pigeon-hole natural no.10 players into other positions is a very difficult task.
Klopp resisting the cash-in
One thing that is abundantly clear is that Fenway Sports Group’s entire sporting model at Liverpool relies on the signing of young players with clear resale value.
After arriving at Anfield for £8.5 million in January 2013, selling Coutinho for a fee upwards of £90 million would be absolutely perfect business for the club’s American ownership.
Much of the resistance to a sale this summer doesn’t come from them but rather Klopp himself who is acutely aware he is unable to sign his top targets this window. Keita would have been a perfect addition but that won’t happen this season, next summer he has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave for £48 million which in truth would represent a steal.
The issue Liverpool has is that the players they want aren’t available now and selling Coutinho to Barcelona, however much it may make sense, would do them no good in the short-term.
Hakim Ziyech is a reported target should they need to buy, but again at 24 years old you are buying a player who isn’t the finished product and someone who lacks a natural position in a team which doesn’t feature a no.10.
There is even an argument to be made that given his £36 million release-clause, Nice’s Jean-Michael Seri would be a huge improvement to Liverpool’s midfield this summer should Coutinho leave and it would leave a lot of money left over for FSG to feel comfortable with.
No comparison between him and Luis Suarez
Resisting Coutinho’s departure doesn’t come from the same place that attempts to resist Luis Suarez’s did.
Make no mistake, the Uruguayan was and has proven to be absolutely irreplaceable. He left Liverpool as the best striker in world football after Robert Lewandowski, excluding Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
He was irreplaceable when he left and whilst the club had no real choice in the matter, selling him was a mistake and a blow. Coutinho is not at that level, he is very talented yes but he isn’t anywhere near the truly top players in world football.
Would you rather have him than Toni Kroos and Luka Modric? No. Is he capable of contributing the same things as Neymar? Probably not.
Replace him not this summer, but the next
Getting £100 million for the Brazilian would be brilliant business for the Merseyside club if they could replace him, but for the moment they cannot.
Next summer will be a different matter with Keita available but it is difficult to see Barcelona returning next summer offering the same money for Coutinho. This is even more unlikely if Keita has another outstanding season in the Bundesliga, he could quite conceivably be a target for Los Cules and Real Madrid by then.
As such here is the decision Liverpool’s ownership has to make whilst consulting the football personnel at the club. Financially it is a no-brainer to let Coutinho leave this summer but with it so difficult to buy at the present moment it has to be understood that such a move would set the team way back in their pursuit of a top three finish this term.
Liverpool’s American owners have the final call and it will be interesting to see whether they allow Barcelona to sign one of their star players but unfortunately for them the timing might just be so bad that there would be no explaining such a move to Liverpool’s fervent support this summer.
Next summer things may well look a little different however.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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