There is a lot of ill-feeling towards Philippe Coutinho in the Liverpool fan base at the moment. This is completely understandable: the manner in which he pursued his dream move was unprofessional and potentially damaging to the club at an important time. However, some empathy is surely needed – there are very few players who would not push for a move if Barcelona came calling, and it was only Liverpool’s hard stance that forced him to the extremes of not playing. The argument could be made that this stance was unfair to the player; he has contributed a lot to the team over the past three and a half seasons, and I felt that he deserved to be allowed to go once a reasonable bid was received. Of course, he has a long-term contract, and FSG were well within their rights to point to such a recently-signed 5-year deal; the same is true of Van Dijk, however, and Liverpool fans’ outrage at his desire to move is suspiciously lacking. That said, I’m thrilled that Coutinho is staying, not least because the club’s record at replacing key men in recent years is patchy at best. Now it’s important for the fans to get behind him.
The dislike for his attitude, coupled with Liverpool’s relative success in his absence, has led some fans to play down the importance of Coutinho to the team. This is simply revisionism: he is the best player at the club. Mane is catching him rapidly, but for the time being the Brazilian playmaker is on a level of his own. His vision unlocks defences that nobody else can break down, and the creativity he injects into the midfield three is vital to the long-term success of the team. Furthermore, he is the most capable of producing a ‘moment of magic’ to swing a tight game – Klopp has assembled an attacking unit which contributes (and scores) remarkably equally, but Coutinho is the most capable of winning points on his own. Talk of leaving him ‘rotting in the reserves’ is frankly absurd – why hang on so determinedly to a prized asset only to refuse to utilise him? Rather he should be unleashed on opponents as soon as possible: our attack has already notched eight in three Premier League games, and it is frightening to think what they could do with Coutinho providing them service.
Such a lethal combination could go on to big things this season, both domestically and in Europe. Particularly given Barcelona’s apparent decline, who can say what Coutinho will want to do next summer? One thing is for sure: regardless of how much the club progresses, he will not want to stay at Liverpool if the fans are on his back all season. At a time where it feels as if seismic shift is taking place amongst the European elite, Liverpool need to be attracting rather than repelling top talent in order to stand a chance of filling the power vacuum and re-establishing themselves as a dominant club force. To this end, fans must try to put this unfortunate transfer saga behind them: loyalty in football is an extreme rarity in the modern game, and as long as Coutinho continues to perform on the pitch he is just as worthy of support as the rest of the team.
I can still understand why some supporters are unwilling to forgive him. Nonetheless, the form that some of the criticism has taken is unpleasant. Neymar’s comment that Coutinho was in “a moment of great sadness” was met with derision – many seemed angry that he dare be unhappy when he earns so much money. This is clearly nonsense; his wealth does not guarantee him happiness, and by extension his sadness is not illegitimate purely because he gets paid a lot. Some of the abuse has also highlighted the toxic masculinity particularly prevalent in football: Coutinho was visibly emotional during Brazil’s win over Ecuador, and the manner and form of the insults that followed was ugly. It’s a personal decision whether or not to get behind him, but ignorant insults are far more worthy of criticism than wanting to move to Barcelona.
To sum up, I would strongly advocate getting fully behind Coutinho. He has given a lot to this club, it was natural for him to want to move, and although he went about trying to do this in a less-than-ideal fashion he remains a world class player who we want to perform well for us. It would be self-destructive to potentially prevent him from flourishing. Even if you can’t bring yourself to back him, at least be wary that the form of your criticism doesn’t say more about you than it does him.
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