Coutinho puts his faith in an Anfield future
As Sterling contract saga drags on, Brazilian says he owes allegiance to Liverpool, writes Chris Bascombe
It seemed a simple enough question to Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho but, as recent history at Anfield has shown, it has the potential to be incendiary.
"What does a top player do if Liverpool are not in the Champions League next season and another big club come calling?"
Coutinho's English is such he still requires an interpreter, but the facial expression said as much as the words.
Remember Jamie Carragher interrupting with a protestation "Who is bigger than Liverpool?" when a similar query was put to Steven Gerrard on TV in 2005? This was the Brazilian version, a combination of bewilderment and a hint of affront the prospect of an exit was raised.
"My mind is at Liverpool, I'm a Liverpool player and I don't think about those things because I am happy here and want to be here," he said.
"Liverpool have always shown a great warmth to me so when they came to me with a proposal I did not need to think twice to renew the contract. I have always been looked after very well by this football club and I am very happy at this football club, so I didn't even have to think about it."
Coutinho said he felt he owed Liverpool when he signed his five-year deal earlier this season. He committed himself to Anfield because he has developed his game and earned an international recall after stalling at Inter Milan.
Whether a mega offer will ever compromise the firmness of this allegiance is for another day, but on this occasion the comparison between the boy from Rio and the stance of Raheem Sterling was inescapable.
"When you see the manager trusts you and gives you a lot of confidence it makes you play even better," said Coutinho. "It makes your football flow better than usual. Trust and confidence from above is always good for a player.
"I like the responsibility I have here and I love the way the fans treat me, the way the staff look after me. On the pitch I try not to think too much about things, just to perform as best as I can in order for the rewards to be shared amongst us.
"I'd rather not talk about myself in terms of stepping up levels and things like that because my personal preference is to do my work during the week and then show my best in the game. Sometimes the game does not go for you no matter how much you try, but I do what I can and I leave other people to their opinions on how I played.
"Fortunately the Champions League is not out of reach yet mathematically, anyway, there are still possibilities, even though it is not 100 per cent in our hands. But we're in the semi finals of a great competition and will do our best to win the trophy - it matters a lot to us as a club."
The endorsements for Coutinho have been consistent this season. John Terry voted him player of the year ("It pleases me a lot coming from such a great player," said Coutinho) and there was a recent meeting with Pele ahead of Liverpool's fixture with Manchester United. "Meeting a person like that sends a shiver down your spine," he said. "It is the ultimate honour because Pele is the greatest player of Brazil and probably the world.
"I have never met him before, it was my first time and a great honour for me. I was a little bit nervous meeting him before the match. Of course, I took a photograph with him.
"I will keep it with some of the other idols I have. The main idol of mine is Ronaldinho, the player I always wanted to watch wherever he was playing.
"I had a photograph taken with him when I was called into the national team when I was 17. I have always kept that and it is the one I treasure the most."
Now Coutinho wants to add medals to the souvenirs.
His goals have taken Liverpool to the FA Cup semi-final, and his footwork - developed in five-a-side futsal games in South America - is an exhibition in ball control that raises applause every week.
"There are certain things which I still use, such as when I have the ball I try to control the ball with the back of my foot. There are things we do that I did in futsal," says Coutinho.
As he speaks he is fixated on a video available on YouTube displaying his skills when he was nine years old.
"It brings back a lot of good memories to watch this because I always enjoyed playing futsal," he said. "It is a small space and you have to play quick and think quick and I enjoyed that a lot. I just want to improve when I am on the pitch. Scoring goals is one of the things that I need to do better because a player in my position must do that. I want to achieve that as much as many other things, but that is the main one."
With the winning goals against Bolton and Blackburn, the potential is there for Coutinho to define this year's FA Cup.
"I don't know about that. For us, the most important thing is go to this semi-final, win it, and participate in the final," he said. "When I was in Milan, although I was part of the group (that won the Coppa Italia) I didn't have much of an input. Here it is completely different because I've had a great sequence of games playing for the team.
"I'm quite anxious to play at Wembley because it's a ground with wonderful history and I have never played there. I'm really honoured to play at the stadium. To win there and win the Cup would be a massive achievement." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Aston Villa v Liverpool, BT Sport 1, live tomorrow 3.00pm