Wednesday 20 September 2017

Countinho: 'I will go to Rio to support Brazil even if I'm not in squad'

'Magician' Coutinho hopes to conjure up World Cup call with the help of Reds

Philippe Coutinho
Philippe Coutinho

Chris Bascombe

Philippe Coutinho can picture himself standing on the sidelines under the imposing shadow of Rio's Maracana Stadium, anxiously awaiting the call to action. He is 11 years old, having followed his older brothers to their daily football game in their home district of Rocha, hoping they'll allow him to join their kickabout.

Ten years on, there are similar feelings of being on the outside hoping to be summoned towards Rio's football cathedral for this summer's World Cup.

This time, Coutinho must conjure the tricks that have earned him the nickname 'The Magician' in the Liverpool dressing-room (Daniel Sturridge calls him David Blaine), to capture the attention of Brazil's manager Luiz Felipe Scolari.

As we meet five days before the Merseyside derby, it is put to Coutinho he should not be at Liverpool's training ground during an international break.

"I will go to Rio to support Brazil even if I'm not in the squad," says Coutinho. "I'm a Brazilian who loves my country, so of course I will be following and supporting the side as much as any fan.

"I still think there is plenty of time for me to try and be part of the team. It's always going to be difficult because there are a lot of players who play in my position who have been given their chance and are playing very well, but there is a lot of football to be played before the World Cup. My main focus has to be on Liverpool and then see if anything develops."

Coutinho's cause was not helped when his shoulder gave way under a heavy challenge from Swansea's Ashley Williams four games into this season.

Liverpool boasted a 100pc record and held the lead in Wales when Coutinho departed. Many felt the fluency, creativity and balance of Brendan Rodgers' side exited with him during his spell out, even if results have remained consistent enough to ensure a victory at Goodison Park could return the club to the top of the Premier League.

On his first start since his surgery, Liverpool created 32 goalscoring opportunities in their stroll against Fulham, more than any side this season. As the club's analytical American owner John W Henry might say, you do the math.

"I would not agree the team was not playing so well when I was not there," Coutinho protests. "When I was not playing, the team still won and was playing very well. What I would say is this; the manager gives me complete freedom to play to link the play between midfield and the striker. He does not limit me to a particular area of the field or a position, his instruction to me is to move around and work in different positions that are best for the team.

"When you don't have the ball, you still need the discipline, to know where you should be, who you should be marking, but when we have the ball it is important to be able to move around. That only comes with practice and I'm pleased people like my style of football."

Coutinho's football education began at the team he supported, Vasco Da Gama. "The moment I arrived at Vasco I realised I could become a professional footballer," he said. "Until then I would just play with friends. It was always football for me, every day.

"My father loves the game and my two brothers are older than me – they are not professional footballers – but they loved playing football. We lived just near the Maracana and I'd go off with them hoping they'd let me join in with the game. Sometimes, they'd let me and that was where everything started for me. But after I joined Vasco – at the age of around 11 - I knew I had to live my life in a certain way to make it to the top.

"Most of the top players from Brazil think about moving to a top European club at some point in the future, and I was no different, even at that young age. When the chance came I took it. I was playing for the Brazil youth team and we travelled to Europe a lot, so that's when Inter Milan saw me and became interested.

CHANGE

"Jose Mourinho was the manager when I was preparing to join them, but he left before I moved to Italy. It was a difficult period, strangely, because they had won the national championship five times and just won the Champions League but the club was preparing for change.

"Rafa Benitez had just become the manager and he was prepared to give me opportunities straight away as a younger player, but there were good players there who won a lot at the club and things were not settled and it turned out not so good."

Coutinho's departure from Inter has looked more curious with each Liverpool performance. Coutinho's derby record at Vasco de Gama and Inter was mixed, and although he believes the passion and intensity of the occasion on Merseyside is comparable to Brazil and Italy, he believes suggestions such games in England lack the same technical proficiency as abroad are exaggerated.

"People said to me before the first derby to expect a very physical game, but really there was a lot of football played, the teams trying to play on the floor," he said.

"There was not a lot more physical contact between the sides. With the game so quick, players move fast and passing quickly now, maybe it's not so easy to have these types of physical games.

"Before I joined Vasco I'd go as a fan, but the derbies are the same wherever you play, whether it's in Brazil, Italy or England. There is a special atmosphere around the game and nobody wants to lose, but as a player you can only think of winning, not the fear of losing." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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