James Martin writes about how Philippe Coutinho deserves respect, with him being one of Liverpool’s longest-serving senior players.
As Philippe Coutinho moves ever closer to swapping Liverpool for Barcelona, many fans have started to turn on him. The anger is understandable – no supporter wants to see a great player leave, least of all through pressurising the club into a sale. However, taking a moment to reflect on things, it is apparent that it would be grossly unfair on Coutinho to let this less-than-ideal end to his time at the club, be it in January or in the summer, cloud his entire time on Merseyside. Faced with a “definitive” club statement saying he was not for sale in August, the Brazilian was left with little choice but to agitate for the transfer or else give up on his dream move altogether. Of course, any Liverpool fan would have preferred him to decide that he was happy to stay at the club indefinitely; this is not realistic, however, so the next best that could be hoped for was that Coutinho would continue to put in world class performances while still a Liverpool player. This he has done: from the moment it became apparent that he would not get his move last summer until the possibility of the transfer re-emerged this month, Coutinho has played the best football of his life, helping Liverpool occupy a top four position and progress to the knockout rounds of the Champions League for the first time since 2008. This is the culmination of five years of quality in a red shirt: he has earned his move, and it is spiteful to begrudge it to him just because he hasn’t shown unwavering loyalty of the sort rarely ever seen anymore.
It highlights the realities of the modern game that Philippe Coutinho is currently one of the club’s longest-serving senior players, behind only Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge. There are only an elite group of three or four clubs in the world who can hold on to their best talent indefinitely: if one of these superpowers comes in for a world class player, sooner or later he will be off. Frankly, Liverpool can be thankful that they have managed to get five years out of Coutinho – his talent has been apparent from his dazzling first six months in the second half of the 2012/13 campaign, and in the past season-and-a-half he has added the sort of consistency possessed by only the top players. In that time, he has helped guide the club to the Champions League and subsequently contributed significantly to getting them out of the group stage as winners: none of the current squad were here when that feat was last achieved, and it cannot be underestimated. Of course, this was a team effort, but Coutinho’s presence has been a constant inspiration to the side: he is one of the most technically gifted players to ever pull on a Liverpool shirt, and on more than one occasion he has salvaged points on his own with his uncanny ability to score from long-range. To forget all of this and turn against him effectively just because he has the audacity to want to make his dream move is petty and naïve: his departure will not erase his contributions.
Of course, there is more to it than that. One thing many fans seem particularly angry about is the manner in which he has tried to leave, as opposed to his simple desire to go to Barcelona per se. However, it is hard to comprehend exactly what such fans wanted him to do differently. Having been made aware of Barcelona’s interest relatively close to the start of the season, given that said interest was only really prompted by the Catalan giants’ shock loss of Neymar in early August, Coutinho made it clear that he wanted to go. This was unfortunately timed, in that the start of the new campaign was just a week away, but it would be illogical to be angry at the Brazilian for not pushing for a move before there was even any concrete interest. In contrast, he was at fault for what followed, if (as seems likely) his ‘injury’ was faked. It is never acceptable to refuse to play for your club – this is particularly true given that Coutinho had committed to Liverpool with a new long-term contract just months previously. However, there was an obvious mitigating circumstance that at least made his actions understandable. FSG released a statement that their ‘definitive stance’ was against selling Coutinho – for him to see that, while knowing that the club he was desperate to play for were bidding for him, would obviously have been difficult to take. It is not hard to grasp why he felt the need to take extreme measures to push for his move. Certainly, his actions have precluded him from ever being mentioned in the same breath as club legends; there is nothing, however, to prevent him from being remembered fondly as a brilliant player who provided five years of great memories.
This is all the more true when the recent actions of a certain Virgil Van Dijk are considered. He was welcomed as a hero on Merseyside, having pushed hard for his move for the best part of six months – it goes without saying that fans are bound to be happy when great players want to join and upset when they want to leave, but the sheer suspension of logic required to deride Coutinho and celebrate Van Dijk is staggering. The Dutch defender refused to play for long stretches between August and January, and when he did play it was clear his heart was not in it: one report even suggested he remarked “why wouldn’t you want to play here?” to a teammate, having just been soundly beaten at Anfield. The chairman remarked that the protracted saga “left a cloud” over the club, and Southampton now find themselves just one place above the relegation zone. During the same period, Liverpool’s wantaway key asset was producing the sort of football that even draws begrudging praise from bitter rivals, and that ensured Liverpool have had a successful first half of the season. It could be said that getting on with playing at a high level is the least that should be expected, and there is some truth in this, but the conduct of Van Dijk -and, looking elsewhere, Alexis Sanchez – shows that in the context of modern football it is far from a given. Logically, it can either be the case that continuing to do your best is deserving of some respect, or else that Liverpool have signed somebody who has worryingly poor attitude problems: if what Coutinho has done since the summer is the minimum standard to be expexted, Van Dijk has fallen below it. Nonetheless, there didn’t seem to be much concern about the attitude of our new acquisition when the signing was announced: there was near-universal celebration, and rightly so. Players pushing for big moves is a part of the game: it is better to accept that this is all Coutinho has done, and remember him for his brilliance, than to get engulfed in bitterness.
Nobody is happy to see Coutinho go. Nobody is happy about the manner in which it has come about. Ultimately, however, he is entitled to want to go to one of the biggest clubs in the world: he has gone too far in pushing for such a move, but that is very understandable. He has got on with playing beautiful football since the summer, on an even more consistent basis than that which he has treated fans to over the course of his five-year spell at the club: this is his legacy, and it is wrong to simply discard it because of a sour ending.
If you want to read Opinion 1 of Coutinho’s legacy, you can do so here.
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