Things aren't going well for Philippe Coutinho at Barcelona - but situation is worse for Real Madrid playmaker
For two of the most modern playmakers in the game, who were supposed to represent the next generation for the two biggest clubs in the game, the present isn’t going that well.
Philippe Coutinho isn’t guaranteed a place in the Barcelona team, and Isco can’t get into the Real Madrid side at all. It has led to a lot of talk that, far from being the clubs’ futures, their own futures might lie elsewhere.
It has genuinely got to that point, that level of discussion.
While their situations are superficially similar, though, the routes here were not.
With Isco, Madrid have been actively trying to offload him. They bring him up as a possible makeweight in every preliminary discussion over potential summer deals, but ideally want to sell him to fund a necessary overhaul of the squad. That is damning for a Spanish player specifically purchased when young to lead their future, and points to the difference with Coutinho.
With the Brazilian, those at Barcelona feel that his camp are now looking at other options, explaining the speculation about Manchester United and Liverpool. While Coutinho’s people are disgruntled about his lack of playing time of late, though, the Camp Nou hierarchy are generally pleased with his attitude and hopeful for him. One influential Barca voice told the Independent that they all still feel he "perfectly fits our style", and "can still be the next Iniesta".
Isco’s camp actually harboured visions that he would be a new Iniesta figure, but for Spain during the 2018 World Cup. They felt they could make it his tournament. That never transpired in what was a farce of a campaign for Spain, and the feeling that it had all gone to the head of a 26-year-old who can be guilty of cockiness has only become more persistent. Madrid have got fed up, and it is telling that a local media so often guided by the Bernabeu boardroom see it as open season on Isco, and to a lesser extent Marco Asensio. Club icon Jorge Valdano echoed the feelings of many at the Bernabeu when stating this weekend that Isco has “lost his way”.
The playmaker couldn’t even win a place in the team for the victorious trip to Real Betis, when no one else for that position was available. Stand-in manager Santiago Solari – who, it should be pointed out, is very much president Florentino Perez’s man – has just had no time for him. It means his time at the club really might be up, as it is going to be very difficult to turn around.
That isn’t the case with Coutinho.
The feeling is that this is all a case of adjustment, both for the Brazilian playmaker and the team. It currently just suits Barca to break a bit from their usual approach, and play with – well – breaks. Rather than the ball doing most of the moving, it is the players doing most of the moving. They have been defined by individuals – particularly Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic and Ousmane Dembele – carrying the ball, and a front three who play very high and very wide.
Coutinho has either played on the left of that front three, or at the tip of that central three, but in a way of playing that hasn’t really suited him.
The feeling is that if they had a more typical Barca style, and a midfield that played closer together and thereby let the ball move, it would better suit Coutinho and bring out the best in his game; bring out the intricacies.
He is instead on the fringes of games, not getting into them, and it is thereby seen as understandable that his confidence has dropped. The club has not lost confidence in him, though. They all believe he can be that key playmaker, and will gradually evolve with the side over the time.
The same was once expected of Isco at Madrid. No longer.
That could be beneficial for a few Premier League clubs, as many – particularly Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City – are interested, with those close to Isco hoping it is the English champions who win out.
Those at Madrid currently just want rid.
Barca don’t want rid of Coutinho. They just see the speculation as a bit of posturing to try and get him more respect.
They still see him as the future. The future for Isco, though, is a bit more uncertain.
Independent News Service