It may not be possible to feel sorry for someone who could rake in tens of millions of dollars to live in Barcelona (with a short stay in Munich) and not have to do much. And Liverpool fans will certainly have no sympathy for Philippe Coutinho given the way he came out of Anfield for the Nou Camp in 2018.
But Coutinho becoming perhaps the main symbol of Barcelona’s mismanagement, generosity and stupidity is not really Coutinho’s fault. At least not entirely. It wasn’t Coutinho’s fault that Barca were desperate enough to spend the money they received from PSG on Neymar. It wasn’t Coutinho’s fault that Ousmane Dembélé, the other lunatic of Neymar’s size, had already proven himself to be perma-crunched when Coutinho showed up. And it wasn’t Coutinho’s fault that he took what was a promotion, and was then, to play for a team that already had a dominant ball player making his skills superfluous. In fact, they had THE dominant player of the ball in Lionel Messi. Imagine signing Russell Westbrook, in his prime, to be a screener and off-the-ball shooter. It was the worst possible adaptation.
He’s getting pretty small in the rear view now, but just four years ago Coutinho was one of the Premier League’s most exciting midfielders. But Liverpool suited him as he spent his best season playing in the attacking line with Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino happy to play outside of him. And a midseason played behind those two and Mo Salah, all racing for him to squeeze passes or create space for his sometimes unreasonable selection of shots. Liverpool also surrounded or supported Coutinho with an industrious midfield that would have allowed him to improvise and float while covering him.
It didn’t help Coutinho’s reputation who, when he left Liverpool, used the money to sign Virgil van Dijk immediately, saw him become perhaps the best defender in the world, and then reach consecutive Champions League finals and a title of Premier League. Nor did it help that Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool’s confidence never really felt the need to replace Coutinho, shifting the creative responsibility onto their full backs and leaving the midfield more energetic than inspiring.
Perhaps Barcelona thought that putting Coutinho back in the same line-up with Luis Suárez would simply recreate the magic they had in England at Liverpool. But they didn’t have the same seats in the open field. When he was at Liverpool, Coutinho led a midfield diamond behind Suárez and Daniel Sturridge. It is not the formation used by Barca. Ivan Rakitić was already where Coutinho would have been in midfield, and on the left of the front three, you spend a lot of time watching Messi do his thing. Running in space is not Coutinho’s game.
Even in subsequent years, Coutinho has never been a high-energy worker, which means the other two midfielders have to cover some ground. Given that Sergio Busquets’ odometer already had several hundred thousand miles on it, that wasn’t something the Barca could provide either.
All of this has made Coutinho a figure of sadness over the past four seasons. He had a front row seat for the Champions League crashes against Roma and Liverpool. He was loaned to Monaco, which allowed him to be on the right side of another Barca paddle, and scored two goals for Monaco in that 8-2 win, but failed to stay in Monaco. . The rest of the time he was a partial player, as the memories of him winning games alone fade more and more.
However, Coutinho is (somehow) only 29 and that player must be there somewhere. And there may be no more perfect scenario to get him out than playing for his former captain Steven Gerrard and for a team that was built around a player with ball-mastering talent who lived on the left side of the attack. This is what Coutinho will find at Aston Villa.
Villa has spent the past two seasons running through Jack Grealish, whose skill set matches Coutinho’s quite well. And there are a variety of ways that Gerrard could field it. Left with Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins. Or behind them in the same midfield rumble in which Gerrard played with Coutinho. In John McGinn and Douglas Luiz or Jacob Ramsey, they have hard working players to cover.
Coutinho is definitely the most popular name to come to Villa in some time, but he’s obscure as to what Villa hopes to achieve. They are nine points out of the European spots. They are 11 points clear of relegation. They only took Coutinho on loan for the remainder of the season, and it’s hard to understand that even if things go well, they’ll raise a transfer fee and pay Coutinho’s salary to keep him permanently (rumored to be around $ 22 million per year). year) unless Coutinho is willing to take a massive pay cut.
Maybe it’s just a mission statement from both of them. Villa to prove to other players and agents that they have serious goals in the coming years under Gerrard. Coutinho to prove he can still be that player when the setting is right. Maybe they can do each other a favor and help each other for the future, even if they will be far from each other.
It’s a boom or bust kind of deal, but Villa doesn’t have much to lose. Coutinho does, which probably has Gerrard and Villa counting on him playing like that.