Tuesday 17 September 2019

Joining Bayern on loan is not the way it was supposed to end for Coutinho

New Bayern Munich player Philippe Coutinho. Photo: Peter Kneffel/dpa via AP
New Bayern Munich player Philippe Coutinho. Photo: Peter Kneffel/dpa via AP

Jason Burt

It was only five weeks ago that Philippe Coutinho's representatives met Barcelona officials and were told the Brazilian would not be sold this summer.

At least Barcelona were truthful in that. Instead, the most expensive player in the club's history has been loaned out for the season to Bayern Munich - quite a remarkable end to his dream transfer to the Nou Camp, not least because moving him on was not something that Lionel Messi, who holds so much power, wanted.

Coutinho's representative, Kia Joorabchian, sought out the meeting with Josep Maria Bartomeu, the Barcelona president, to challenge him on the stream of stories in Spain suggesting the club were looking to offload Coutinho. Bartomeu denied he was behind the stories, with the suspicion that they were coming from an adviser, Andre Cury, who has been the architect of Barcelona's attempts to bring back Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain.

Now the truth is out and it may well be that moving Coutinho on is part of one final push for Neymar before the window closes next month. What is clear is that Barcelona no longer want Coutinho and while joining Bayern is hardly an almighty comedown, this was not the way it was supposed to end for the Brazilian who forced his way out of Liverpool in January 2018 in an extraordinary deal of up to €160 million, which remains the most expensive transfer in English football history.

Now, 18 months into a contract that still has four seasons to run, it appears to be over and while, in their statement announcing the deal, Bayern said that "the parties have agreed not to divulge the financial details of the agreement", Barcelona were only too happy to spill the beans, which suggests they are very pleased with the arrangement.

So Bayern will pay a loan fee of €8.5 million, cover Coutinho's salary of €13.5 million in full and have an option to sign him permanently next summer for €120 million. Given Barcelona's agreement with Liverpool is for a guaranteed €120 million plus up to €40 million in add-ons, of which €15 million has already been paid, they will argue they can recoup nearly all of their outlay.

However, they will also know that Real Madrid struck a similar agreement with Bayern over James Rodriguez with the Colombian returning to Spain, where he is now being hawked around Europe, including having been offered to Manchester United, because Bayern did not take up the option.

Barcelona have already attempted to offload Coutinho back to the Premier League, where the deal was deemed too expensive, and held initial talks to try to sell him to PSG.

Returning to England is still possible for Coutinho and Chelsea may well have been his destination this summer but for Fifa's transfer ban. So Chelsea may well come calling again next year and a move there would appear logical if it does not work out in Bavaria.

What is so remarkable, though, is how expendable Coutinho became in such a short time at Barcelona, where initially he was supposed to be the man to create a new attacking triumvirate with Messi and Luis Suarez, following Neymar's departure, and eventually fill the void that would be left by Andres Iniesta.

That proved to be part of the problem. Coutinho did not have a specific role in the team and the roles that were offered to him did not get the best out of him.

While he is undoubtedly one of the world's most talented footballers, he is also shy, reserved and someone who thrives on confidence. That confidence was shattered at Barcelona, where life can be brutal and unforgiving.

Injuries - as ever in such cases - played a part and led to a loss of form and being dropped, and maybe that price tag and expectation weighed heavily on him.

Tellingly, at his unveiling in Munich yesterday, Coutinho, who inherited the No 10 shirt from Arjen Robben, said he felt his best position was as a "No 10", where James played, somewhere he was unable to play at Barcelona.

Despite that, Coutinho, who was popular with his team-mates, wanted to stay at Barcelona even if the writing was on the wall when the club not only signed Frenkie de Jong - hence Iniesta's replacement - and Antoine Griezmann - who will be slotted into the Neymar role - while there remains that possibility of Neymar going back.

Still, what all this does not quite explain is Coutinho's spectacular fall.

The 27-year-old has to take his share of the blame for that, although - given the way he was treated - maybe it also says much about Barcelona and how difficult it can be to succeed there.


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