Why Liverpool have much to thank Philippe Coutinho for ahead of Nou Camp reunion
It is easy to trace the moment that transformed Liverpool from trophy pretenders into genuine contenders.
As Philippe Coutinho and his advisers informed Liverpool that he would insist on sealing his dream move to Barcelona in the 2018 January transfer window, Anfield chiefs were forced to move quickly to mount a damage limitation operation.
After weeks of talks aimed at persuading Coutinho to stay at Liverpool, manager Jurgen Klopp and his chief transfer negotiator Michael Edwards decided to cut their losses on a player who wanted to leave and use the money from the sale to sign their chief transfer target.
As Southampton sources told the Independent.ie at the time ahead of our world exclusive story breaking news of Virgil van Dijk’s move to Liverpool, the stance of the Anfield club in their negotiations to sign Dutch defender changed rapidly in mid-December 2017, as they suddenly decided to meet the £75m asking price after initially refusing to consider paying such an inflated price during lengthy negotiations.
Southampton officials assumed that shift was due to Liverpool’s decision to accept an offer of £142m for Coutinho, after Barca’s earlier bids of £72m, £90m and £118m for Coutinho had all been rejected.
Even though the Coutinho-sized hole has never entirely been filled in Liverpool’s midfield his move to Catalonia, Klopp will reflect that the deal to sell Coutinho was a defining moment in his reign as Liverpool manager for all the right reasons.
With goalkeeper Alisson signed with what was left of the money from Coutinho’s sale, Klopp’s Anfield jigsaw neared completion and as the Reds boss prepares for a reunion with Coutinho in next Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final at the Nou Camp, there can be no doubt who emerged from this deal with the best hand.
As Van Dijk prepares to accept his PFA Player of the Year award tonight, a cloud of uncertainty has gathered over Coutinho as he edges towards the end of his first full season as a Barcelona player, amid suggestions that he does not fit into the system preferred by coach Ernesto Valverde.
After struggling to win over the Nou Camp faithful in a season that has seen him make 16 appearances as a substitute and rarely finish the games he starts, Valverde has been forced to insist Coutinho does have a long-term future at the club despite his indifferent form and the perception that he prefers to pick Ousmane Dembele in the creative midfield role.
With a staggering £355m release clause inserted into Coutinho’s contract, Barca would be unlikely to get a recoup their initial investment in the Brazilian if they opt to sell him this summer and now the stage could be set for his ultimate revival.
Lionel Messi may be the superstar tipped to destroy Liverpool’s Champions League dream, but Coutinho will be more motivated than most to silence his doubters as he comes face-to-face with the team he walked away from.