In his first piece ever for ATC, RayMoN, both a Liverpool and a Barcelona fan, tries to make sense of the strange mid-season transfer of Brazilian star Philippe Coutinho.
Transfer fees in football are getting ridiculous. Last summer, Neymar was bought for €222 million ($270 million). $270 million for the services of ONE player. Granted, several third parties were involved in Neymar’s transfer including a big check for his agent, his father, Neymar Sr.
It makes sense that FC Barcelona, the team that sold Neymar, had a fat bank account to spend on any player they wished to get. Coutinho became their prime target, a player who made it clear last summer to his now former club, Liverpool FC, that he wanted to leave and play for his “childhood dream” club. Liverpool hoped their star player would stay at least for one more season while they brought in reinforcements to help the team achieve its goals.
For reasons known only to him, Coutinho has finally made the move to Barça mid-season; a move I find strange for all parties involved given the wrong timing.
FYI, I’m both a Culé (Barça fan) and a Kopite (Liverpool fan). How I became a fan of both clubs is a story for another article. But my argument remains: Coutinho should have stayed put in Liverpool till the end of the season and then move to Barça. Why?
FC Barcelona currently top the Spanish La Liga table with their closest rivals, Atlético Madrid, 9 points behind. Barça’s archrivals, Real Madrid (2-time consecutive UEFA champions league winners and current La Liga title holders) are 19 points behind with a game in hand. Barça are currently undefeated in all tournaments, have the best defense in all top 5 European leagues, and boast the services of Lionel Messi. Barça are to play against Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League—a tournament Barça absolutely need to win to calm down skeptical Culés and Socios who threatened to bring a vote-of-no-confidence against the current Barça board—this coming February. Trouble is, they won’t even get to play their star transfer prize in the tournament.
UEFA law forbids players who were moved mid-season from playing with two different clubs in the same tournament. Coutinho played in Liverpool’s group stage matches this season, meaning he will not be available to Barça in Champions League games until next season. So why couldn’t both Barça and Coutinho patiently wait till summer? Why not pay the money upfront and sign an agreement that Coutinho will become a Barça player at the beginning of the summer to wade off potential suitors?
Liverpool FC has been in sensational form this season with only two clubs (Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City) besting their current tally of 77 goals in all competitions. The club has also recently acquired the services of a high-profile transfer target, Virgil van Dijk, from Southampton to address their defensive gaps. Liverpool are currently playing in the UEFA Champions League. Depending on their success, there is a real possibility that they might encounter Barça; a team they just sold their star player to. If you are having Kevin Durant’s OKC to Golden State flashbacks, read further.
Coutinho was a star player who signed a contract extension with Liverpool last January that would have kept him in the club till 2022. When Liverpool played, he got most of the attention due to his amazing game-changing abilities. Not surprising, Barça came asking for his irreplaceable qualities. Liverpool—fully aware of Barça’s status as a powerhouse in European football—convinced Coutinho to stay for one more season so that they could mount a challenge for the Champions League trophy as the dark horses. Anybody who watches the current Liverpool side cannot deny that they have title-challenging qualities given their devastating attacking play. In fact, they have scored 23 goals in the Champions League group stages alone, and the addition of Virgil van Dijk will further boost their defense, making them a formidable opponent.
Unlike Kevin Durant who achieved free agency and signed for a rival team, Coutinho jumped ship mid-season, mid-contract, and signed with a team that won’t currently need his services in one of Europe’s biggest tournaments.
It was rumored that manager Jurgen Klopp had resigned to letting Coutinho go at the end of last season and had already lined up a couple of potential signings to replace him. Naby Keita from RB Leipzig had been signed for next season, while Thomas Lemar of Monaco and Leon Goretzka of Schalke 04 were considered ideal replacements.
Coutinho leaving means Liverpool finds themselves in a very difficult position. They can an pay exorbitant amount to get Lemar or Goretzka, though it isn’t a guarantee their respective clubs will sell or that they would have a Coutinho-esque impact. Given the risk they can’t get these players, they had the option to pay extra to get Keita immediately instead of waiting till next summer—a move Leipzig has since rejected, citing unwillingness to let their star player leave mid-season. The last and least popular move would be to do nothing and gamble on the players they currently have. The problem with this move is it will not only irk Liverpool’s fanatic Kopites, but it will require the current squad to amp up their game while avoiding injuries to key players. Again, the question begs, why was Coutinho so impatient to leave?
No one knows except Coutinho and his inner circle. He will, no doubt, add firepower to Valverde’s impressive Barça, but his departure leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of Kopites who adored and welcomed him after he faked injuries to force his request to leave Liverpool for Barça during the summer. Or it could be Coutinho has always been a Barça Culé and couldn’t wait for the chance to accomplish his dream.
We never know what can happen in football. Liverpool can end up lifting the Champions League trophy come May while Barça gets eliminated by Conte’s Chelsea side, or vice-versa. At the end, we’ll see whether this saga ends with both sides happy, or with one or both sides wishing they had gotten the timing right.