Coutinho’s sale threatens Reds top-four bid
Liverpool are in a better place than after sales of Torres and Suarez, but pressure is on Klopp not to blow €160m warchest
'January is a difficult market to do business. No-one wants to sell their best players."
How often do you hear managers say this? The winter transfer window comes with a warning - don't expect much; top performers are not available; it is the wrong time to buy and sell. Except, it seems, where Liverpool and Philippe Coutinho are concerned.
I can't understand Liverpool's decision to sell Coutinho now. Not mid-season.
No matter how much I hear about boyhood dreams; efforts to convince him to stay; and how much family, representatives or even sponsors pushed for it, why this month?
The financial reward is vast. So is the risk.
Liverpool are well placed to finish runners-up to Manchester City. They have a kind Champions League draw. The Liverpool team of January 2018 is superior to that of January 2005, which won the competition. They have lost just four of their last 44 games, continuously improving. Why endanger momentum?
Regardless of how much Coutinho agitated, Liverpool could have stood firm. While some players such as Alexis Sanchez and Virgil Van Dijk lost form after being denied their summer move, Coutinho was the opposite. He has never played better for Liverpool than between September and December this season.
I am sure the Brazilian would have recovered from his disappointment for four more months. It was more risky to keep him in August than now. No-one knew how he would react on his return to the side. He demonstrated it was in his nature to always give 100pc, so why expect different in February?
When the move was denied last summer the player and his agent must have expected he would be retained for the year. What changed?
I agree the €160m fee is astronomical. The transfer market is crazy, but for Coutinho to become the second most expensive player in world football is extraordinary. He has become an outstanding player, but he is not the best in the Premier League like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale or Luis Suarez when they made their moves to La Liga. He is behind Harry Kane, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard.
But I still fear a mid-season deal unnecessarily jeopardises Liverpool's Champions League place for next season. If they do not finish in the top four everyone will point at Coutinho's sale.
Imagine the fillip for Liverpool's top-four rivals. If Kane ever leaves Spurs for Real Madrid, or Sanchez leaves Arsenal for Manchester City, their Champions League hopes will immediately diminish.
The frustration for Liverpool supporters is every time the club looks capable of challenging for top honours they become prey.
They finished second to Manchester City and lost Luis Suarez. Before that we came second to Manchester United and lost Xabi Alonso. Liverpool are not alone in being forced to accept their place in the football pyramid. Barcelona and Madrid eventually get what they want. Even Manchester United had to submit to Real when Ronaldo wanted out.
Losing stars is not a recent Anfield phenomenon, either. In 1977 the club sold Kevin Keegan to Hamburg for a record fee. In 1984 they sold their captain Graeme Souness to Sampdoria at a time Italian football was the wealthiest in the world. In 1987 Ian Rush joined Juventus.
The difference is they left with a sack full of trophies. Losing the player is not the biggest problem. It is when they leave, what they leave behind, and how well the void is filled that has been the greatest cause of Anfield stress.
Coutinho goes after five years without a trophy. For Fernando Torres it was the same. Luis Suarez won just the League Cup. All left with the club craving a return to what it once was, having played their part in generating hope.
They got close but then the rebuilding had to start afresh. That intensifies the dissatisfaction. You can accept and recover from major sales after a successful period, but not in the midst of reconstruction.
Liverpool dipped after the exits of Alonso, Torres and Suarez. They panicked, believing they had to act to appease those demanding they reinvest.
Inadequate replacements such as Alberto Aquilani, Andy Carroll and Mario Balotelli arrived. The three managers in charge at the time - Rafa Benitez, Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers - were gone the following year. Huge sums were received and wasted. Bad transfers cost jobs. The Carroll fee kept rising because Newcastle knew Liverpool had the Torres cash. The rest of English football was laughing when it rose to £35m.
Where the Coutinho departure differs is Liverpool have a more balanced squad now than in 2009, 2011 and 2014. They do not need to panic buy. If a long-term target can be signed they should act, but otherwise it is right to wait.
Having been criticised a few year ago, Liverpool's recruitment team has been more astute recently; Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Joe Gomez have proved to be exceptional signings. Virgil Van Dijk and the soon-to-arrive Naby Keita promise much. These recruits ensure Klopp can direct his resources on pursuing one or two high class players rather than six or seven, as was the case with the Suarez money. At the start of next season we will be seeing a fully-formed Klopp team rather than a developed version of the squad Rodgers left behind.
This makes me more optimistic longer-term than I was following the Suarez transfer.
Earlier this season I argued Liverpool may never win the title under Klopp. My reasoning is based on finances. City and United working in a different market.
While Liverpool possess the Coutinho money, temporarily at least, that has changed. Klopp is in a better position to at least challenge his rivals for the most coveted stars. The €160m brings opportunity. Since he joined Liverpool he has recouped £34m more than he has invested. If he and his scouts continue to spend well, Liverpool will emerge stronger.
Van Dijk's arrival addresses the need for a centre-back. I will be staggered if Klopp does not target a more trustworthy goalkeeper. Too many people also appear to have forgotten Adam Lallana - England's most technically gifted player - who will slot into the midfield role Coutinho has occupied for most of the season.
Nothing will persuade me selling Coutinho now makes sense. Selling one of your best players can never be a cause for satisfaction.
But the parallels with the sales Alonso, Torres and Suarez are not so valid. Liverpool are less fragile now. It is up to Klopp to succeed where both Benitez and Rodgers failed in 2009 and 2014 - ensuring a mega receipt of cash does not reverse a position of growing strength into one of debilitating weakness.