Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona: Summer move more likely
Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho had the opportunity to shut down any renewed talk about of a future move to Barcelona following his hat trick in Wednesday’s thrilling 7-0 Champions League win over Spartak Moscow. He declined.
“I do not know how the future is going to be,” he said. “What will happen in January, we will know it in January. I do not know if there will be an offer.”
Those comments will be music to the ears of Barca fans who came tantalisingly close to seeing the Brazilian in their club’s colours in the summer, only for Liverpool’s firm resistance to several bids eventually winning through.
ESPN FC’s club correspondents Glenn Price (Liverpool) and Sam Marsden (Barcelona) discuss Coutinho’s potential £90 million move.
The Barcelona view
Barcelona haven’t been coy about their interest in Coutinho. In September they claimed they were unwilling to heed to Liverpool’s demand for €200m — Liverpool deny ever making such a demand — and CEO Oscar Grau has already said the finances are in place for a big January signing. President Josep Maria Bartomeu, too, has said that the squad could do with one final touch in order to compete for the Champions League this season. There will be another move for Coutinho in January.
There is a but, though: Coutinho can’t technically help with Bartomeu’s request to win the Champions League. If he did move to Camp Nou, he would be cup-tied after helping Liverpool reach the round-of-16. Indirectly, perhaps, he could help by allowing the ageing Andres Iniesta to rest his legs at the weekends and keep himself fresh for those big European nights — maybe even one at Anfield, in the later rounds.
What cannot be disputed is that Barca could do with Coutinho. They have been accused of being boringly solid this season, lacking that spark once supplied by Neymar. That criticism often neglects one thing, though. Lionel Messi aside, this new Barca system looks to be missing two key parts which were clearly in mind when it was designed by Ernesto Valverde: Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, who was ruled out for four months after making just three appearances following his transfer from Borussia Dortmund.
The question, then, is how much do Barca need Coutinho in January? And, would he be cheaper next summer, when Liverpool may be more willing to let him move to Spain? Last summer’s transfer request leaves no doubt that it is what he wants.
By the time the calendar ticks into 2018, it’s not unfeasible that Barca have a 14-point lead over Real Madrid in La Liga, still their biggest rivals for the title despite Valencia and Atletico being closer. Would Coutinho be needed to get them over the line? He would get six months to adapt before next season and would help with rotation around big Champions League games. But how much is that worth mid-season? — Sam Marsden
The Liverpool view
While Coutinho and his manager Jurgen Klopp have been rather non-committal on what’s going to happen in January, the reality is selling the playmaker at any point of the 2017-18 season simply doesn’t serve Liverpool’s best interests. The club, of course, have a strong footing at the negotiating table for a player who signed a five-year contract less than 12 months ago.
For all the efforts Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, made in the summer to keep Coutinho at Anfield, to turn around and allow him to depart a few months down the line would be beyond strange.
To Coutinho’s credit, after missing the first six matches of the season as a result of the summer ordeal, he’s since fronted up in the media about what happened and, judging by his performances, not sulked since Liverpool blocked what seemed to be a dream move.
Indeed, the burden placed on Coutinho of almost having to carry Liverpool at times has receded with signing of Mohamed Salah and continued excellence of Sadio Mane. But make no mistake, Coutinho is just as important to Liverpool than ever, with Jurgen Klopp’s side having a real chance of achieving something this season with their red-hot “Fab Four” (Coutinho, Mane, Salah and Roberto Firmino) enough to frighten any defence.
From a purely practical point of view, too, Coutinho would only be able to play domestically for Barca if he were to switch in January as he’ll be cup-tied in the Champions League. That, in turn, could be a factor in Barcelona’s current valuation of the player. Meanwhile, from a Liverpool point of view, there is every chance Coutinho thrives at the 2018 World Cup with Brazil this summer, which would increase his value significantly.
Liverpool supporters are reluctantly aware their days of seeing the Brazilian in red are limited, but the conversations with Barcelona could — not should — wait until the summer, especially when Liverpool can bed in their new potential superstar, Naby Keita. Barcelona have been interested in Coutinho for a number of years now, and Liverpool should make them wait a little longer. — Glenn Price
Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.