Coutinho’s Legacy at Liverpool (Opinion 2): Pack Your Bags

Si, aka PhantomGoal, expresses his views and explodes into Phil Coutinho in this brilliant piece. Saying he deserves little, if any, respect.

Source: liverpoolfc.com

When Liverpool signed Philippe Coutinho in January 2013, I described it as ‘a sign the tides are turning’. I’d caught glimpses of him at Inter and Espanyol, and considered £8.5m to be daylight robbery. History might not remember it, but there were a lot of doubters about the signing of Coutinho at the time. He’d never hit the potential he displayed in Brazil, and yet Liverpool were signing him to come into the first team despite this. Ever since his debut, Coutinho has gone from strength to strength, leaving a long list of doubters in his wake.

The context I’m trying to establish is that I am not a Coutinho hater. I don’t have an agenda against the player. From a selfish perspective, Coutinho is probably the one player in recent memory for whom I’ve stuck my neck out the furthest. It’s been an incredible journey to see him develop into a truly world-class footballer, and from a selfish perspective, be so vindicated in my early confidence in his ability. Phil Coutinho is a player I have felt a significant personal affinity with since he joined. So, understand that it’s not easy for me to say this, but he’s a snake and I hate him.

Okay, there’s a lot to unpack here and I want you to hear me out. Coutinho has always been a quiet character. In interviews and videos, he comes across as professional and polite, while quite reserved. It therefore came as quite a shock to Liverpool fans when, last summer, he started aggressively angling for a move to Barcelona.

In case you have forgotten, allow me to remind you of some of the things Coutinho and his entourage got up to in the summer, all because Barcelona did not value him as highly as Liverpool and therefore never made an acceptable offer:

  • Had a mysterious ‘back injury’ that kept him out of the squad until the end of the transfer window, despite him being fit to play for Brazil;
  • Emailed in a transfer request the day before the Premier League season started – an obvious destabilising tactic;
  • Cried on the pitch while playing for Brazil, and leaked that it was ‘like a funeral’ with his family when he didn’t get the move;
  • Leaked quotes that Klopp was to blame for him wanting to leave.

Coutinho, the millionaire footballer, has perpetually painted himself as the victim in all of this. Of course it is Liverpool who are the bullying taskmasters, because they wouldn’t just accept an offer from Barcelona that was tens of millions below their valuation. This farce has, to no surprise, been bought hook, line, and sinker by many Liverpool fans.

Is the player justified in wanting a move to Barcelona? Absolutely. Any young footballer grows up aspiring to play for a club like Barcelona. Let alone the recognition it brings, there’s an obvious financial incentive too. Aside from a potential increase to his current £150,000 per week deal, he also faces a huge signing bonus and lucrative sponsorship deals. Any footballer in the world would want to move to Barcelona, and I by no means begrudge him that.

However, Coutinho has acted worse than Sterling did when he moved to Man City, or Suarez when he wanted to move to Arsenal. Sterling has been persona non grata ever since, despite the dispute largely originating from Liverpool’s tight-fisted contract negotiations. Suarez was forgiven by playing some of the best football ever seen in a red shirt, and his subsequent move to Barcelona largely went through without much fuss or fanfare. Has Coutinho done enough to warrant forgiveness? Maybe you think so – I do not.

Coutinho is undoubtedly a world class footballer. He was debatably one of the top players in the Premier League last season, even though he did have not-insignificant periods of poor form (I joked at the time that he was only turning on the performances at the end of the season in anticipation of a summer bid from Barcelona). This season, Coutinho’s output has clearly increased, and you can easily draw conclusions that he has therefore upped his game further.

However, I would argue that it is more the introduction of Mohamed Salah (one of the most in-form players in Europe at the moment) and the much improved consistency and finishing of Roberto Firmino, that has made Coutinho look better. I don’t think he is playing at a consistently higher level than he did last season, he simply has better players feeding off him. Of course, you could argue that Salah and Firmino only look so good because of Coutinho, however I think that’s disingenuous. Coutinho is not running our games in the same way Suarez or Gerrard used to – and to suggest as such is affording him a grace he has yet to earn.

A lot of praise has been heaped on Coutinho for not ‘downing tools’ after he didn’t get his move (with comparisons to Virgil van Dijk’s recent poor form). This is true to a degree, however I reject the idea that it is to be commended. Phil Coutinho is paid £150,000 per week to play football, the absolute bare minimum I expect is for him to be professional and not ‘down tools’ because he’s upset that Liverpool didn’t accept a sh*t transfer offer from Barcelona. It is a sad state of affairs that some are praising a footballer for not maliciously disrupting the team he’s contracted to more than he already has.

I would also argue that, judging by his recent actions, Coutinho is actually quite happy to ‘down tools’ once the opportunity to leave emerges. I would remind you that Coutinho was ‘injured’ until the summer transfer window ended, despite playing for Brazil. He also refused to attend a number of Liverpool games in order to offer support for the squad. Similarly, now that the January transfer window has come around, he is ‘injured’ again and not travelling with the squad. In real terms, ‘downing tools’ is actually a direct strategy Coutinho is utilising in order to try and get his way. Should we be admiring a player if they only go on strike four months in a year? Absolutely not!

Source: liverpoolfc.com

While we’re on the topic, a lot has been made with regards to the rank hypocrisy of Liverpool fans decrying Coutinho’s actions, while celebrating the signing of Virgil van Dijk who took a somewhat similar approach to leave Southampton. Personally, while I see the point when taken at face value, I think there is are a few fundamental and significant differences.

Firstly, van Dijk handed in a transfer request, and that’s about it. He wanted to leave, tried to force a move, and his form has clearly suffered as such. He is however coming off an actual long-term injury, and did not try to intentionally disrupt Southampton in order to convince them to accept a sub-par transfer offer. Secondly, I am a Liverpool fan. I exist within the context of being a Liverpool fan. Virgil van Dijk fought tooth and nail to join Liverpool – that shows a level of dedication that players who have been here half a decade are yet to display. Coutinho, on the other hand, is fighting tooth and nail to leave the club.

I’m aware this might sound simplistic but, that distinction matters. I’m sure Barcelona fans find Coutinho’s efforts praiseworthy, because he’s fighting to join them. Similarly, I’d be surprised if there aren’t many Southampton fans angry with Virgil van Dijk in the same way Liverpool fans are angry with Philippe Coutinho. A player who is dedicated to joining your club is immediately admirable. A player who is dedicated to leaving your club is immediately deridable. These two emotions can exist alongside each other without it being hypocritical. Coutinho really wants to join Barcelona, and I’m sure Barca fans will love him for it when he eventually moves.

Unfortunately for Liverpool, it really is a matter of when, rather than if Coutinho moves. It is very easy to simply say ‘we shouldn’t sell our best players’ and ‘he’s contracted for another 4 years’. While both of these things are true, we all know football isn’t that straightforward. An unhappy player can have a serious knock-on effect on morale, particularly if they are using such aggressive tactics as Coutinho is. It might simply disrupt the team, it might put other squad members on guard if they are looking to leave, or worst-case scenario – it might put off prospective signings. There is a balancing act to be struck here, and sometimes hard decisions have to be made.

There are questions to be asked of the efficacy of selling Coutinho, particularly mid-way through the season when there is a Champions League campaign and top four challenge on our hands. I would agree that the best solution is to keep him until at least the summer, however this is assuming good faith on the part of the player. Coutinho mysteriously became ‘injured’ again, the moment the transfer window re-opened. As happened in August, this will no doubt have a destabilising effect on a team that is playing some of the best football we’ve seen from a Liverpool side in the better part of a decade.

From what we can gather, Philippe Coutinho believes he has played his last game for Liverpool (as I’m sure he did in the summer). It also seems clear that FSG are firm in their valuation and reticence to sell – and that if Coutinho is sold, it will be because Klopp has had the final say. The Brazilian is going to play dirty in order to leave in January, so should Liverpool allow him to?

I appreciate arguments that we should never sell our best players. I also appreciate that selling Coutinho would, at least in the short term, be an immediate step backwards. We are unlikely to find a player who can instantly fill the position and perform at a similarly high level. If Coutinho is sold, we will have to take a gamble on a player. This is always going to be difficult, particularly in January. Any players of requisite quality will likely be cup-tied for the Champions League, requiring us to fall back on our current squad to fill the hole left by a player of Coutinho’s quality. This, undoubtedly, is a very legitimate concern.

However, I am of the opinion that Coutinho is not an irreplaceable player. I think he’s a world class footballer, no doubt, but he’s not irreplaceable. Luis Suarez was a truly irreplaceable player (although I’d argue we’re not a hundred miles away with Firmino) – but Suarez is a one-in-a-million player. Suarez is never injured, scores at a consistently high level, and has a workrate and consistency almost unheard of (his recent form notwithstanding). Coutinho is, to be quite frank, not a one-in-a-million player. He’s a very, very good player, but where will the history books remember him in terms of ‘Liverpool greats’?

When he signed his contract extension last year, Coutinho spoke of wanting to be held in the same regards as players like Dalglish, Rush, Souness, Gerrard, and Suarez. Personally, I think he has fallen some way short of that in a red shirt. In simplified terms, I consider him to be more a Torres, than a Suarez. A great player who has given us many great memories, but not a capital-G ‘Great’ player. We made the right decision to cash-in on Torres, and used that money to buy ultimately a far superior player (Andy Carroll didn’t happen and I refuse to be convinced otherwise).

Maybe the answer is a player like Thomas Lemar, or Sergej Milinkovic-Savic – or both. I’ve seen it suggested that Liverpool will need two or three signing to replace Coutinho. While I’m not going to argue against making more signings, I think that is being slightly generous to the Brazilian. It is entirely feasible that we can sell Coutinho and invest that money in one or two players who ultimately leave us with a stronger squad in the long-term.

I’m no expert. I can’t claim to know how Jurgen Klopp pictures his squad come September. However, I think he would be well-justified in feeling extremely f**ed off with Phil Coutinho right about now. The Brazilian has tried to directly blame Klopp for him wanting to leave, and now has downed tools a second time in four months in order to force a move. Maybe Klopp is happy to tolerate that behaviour, or maybe he doesn’t want a snake in the grass.

Personally, I’m sick of it. Phil Coutinho has outstayed his welcome. All good grace he earned back over the past three months has been immediately dismissed, as the antics have started up again the moment the transfer window reopens. Best case scenario for me? Agree a deal with Barcelona for him to leave in the summer for as much money as you can get. Spend said money in January, either bringing players in immediately or to join in July.

If you are bending over backwards to excuse Coutinho’s actions, I have to question your loyalties. I appreciate that we don’t want any player to leave on bad terms, but Coutinho doesn’t seem to care about that. He just wants out, and it’s spineless to just excuse any indiscretion because he’s a good footballer. If you chastised Sterling or Sakho and couldn’t wait to see them leave, but are now slipping discs to defend Coutinho, you need to take a look at yourself. Liverpool will continue on regardless of whether Phil Coutinho plays for us or not. Good players come and go, he’s not a great and will not be remembered as one for his time in a Liverpool shirt.

The old adage goes that ‘no player is bigger than the club’. While trite and overplayed, it’s hardly incorrect. If Coutinho wants out and is prepared to act a sh*te to get his way, screw him. Even if he ends up staying, f*** him. He’s ultimately willing to pursue his own interests at the direct expense of the club’s stability. If you as a Liverpool fan don’t see the problem with that, then I’m embarrassed on your behalf.

 

A massive thank you to Si for this article. Make sure you follow him on Twitter here. If you want to read Opinion 1 of Coutinho’s legacy, you can do so here.

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  1 comment for “Coutinho’s Legacy at Liverpool (Opinion 2): Pack Your Bags

  1. Nesh Kenny
    January 4, 2018 at 9:28 pm

    As a True Red fan I do agree. If only all the @lfc family start showing believe n support to the remaining players n stop giving attention to a want away Phil, then the remaining part of the season will be shit. He hasn’t even climaxed to the Suarez’s level. Lets give attention to players who are proud being a RED. We survived Suarez’s and above all Steve’s departure. That’s if only we believe. C’mon REDS. #LFC #YNWA

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