Tuesday 23 January 2018

Liverpool must beware example set by 'moneyball' owners with Luis Suarez when it comes to Philippe Coutinho

Philippe Coutinho
Philippe Coutinho

Tim Rich

According to the doctrine of Moneyball, which Liverpool’s owner John W Henry has lived by, Philippe Coutinho should have been sold to Barcelona. The Brazilian cost £8.5m from Inter Milan, one of the finest deals in the club’s history. He would have been sold for around £90m.

Financially, it was a no-brainer and would have bettered the Luis Suarez deal – bought for £22m, sold for £65m. Coutinho wanted to go and the iron laws of the modern game insist that in the era of the super-agent, no footballer can be kept against his will. There is also a natural order of things. Barcelona are above Liverpool in football’s gargantuan food chain. They get what they want.

They did not. Liverpool kept a player who wanted to go, they covered up for him with a flimsy story that he was suffering from a ‘bad back’ which did not prevent him playing for Brazil and they let him return as if nothing had happened.

Liverpool were right to do so. The rewards have been instant; a superlative free-kick at Leicester that, together with Simon Mignolet’s penalty save, proved the difference between a frenetic victory and more dropped points.

But for his coolness in the Spartak penalty area, the price of the array of squandered opportunities in Moscow would have been three points rather than two and Liverpool’s margin of error in their Champions League group would have become slender.

The deal that Liverpool and their manager, Jurgen Klopp, has struck with Coutinho may be similar to the one Brendan Rodgers offered Suarez when he attempted to quit Anfield in the summer of 2013 – that if the Uruguayan gave them one more season he could leave.

Suarez was dealt with far more brutally than Coutinho. He was told to train away from the main squad and he was not allowed back until he had apologised to them. Like Coutinho this season, Suarez returned in September. Like Coutinho his impact was immediate. By May, Liverpool were in the Champions League and Suarez was Liverpool’s player of the year. By August, he was a Barcelona player, albeit accompanied by a three-month suspension for biting Giorgio Chiellini in a World Cup game in Natal.

What happened to Liverpool once Suarez left should serve as a warning as to what might happen if Coutinho goes to Catalonia after the Russian World Cup. The return to the Champions League that was Suarez’s parting gift to Liverpool in 2014 was a savage disappointment that contained a single win at home to Ludogorets, a Bulgarian club even the biggest European aficionados among their fans would barely have heard of.

Liverpool did not keep a clean sheet in six matches and when the chances came there was nobody with Suarez’s guile to put them away. The sheer calmness with which Coutinho, hemmed in by Spartak Moscow’s defenders on Tuesday night, put away his goal was in contrast to the three other forwards Klopp employed in Moscow.

When Coutinho went to play for Brazil, Neymar, who had forced through his own diamond-encrusted deal with Paris St Germain, complained his team-mate was “living in sadness” after being refused his move.

Unlike Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal, there have been few signs of Coutinho sulking, which given the closeness of his relationship with Roberto Firmino, is important for the stability of Anfield's dressing room. Liverpool’s fans have not turned as Arsenal’s have on Sanchez.

Coutinho will probably leave in the summer. John W Henry’s pledge to Liverpool supporters was very specific: “He is not for sale in this transfer window”. Henry is a man who still believes in Moneyball and Coutinho still wants to play for Barcelona. But while there is a football at his feet, Liverpool should cherish him.

Independent News Service

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