Sunday 8 December 2019

Liverpool only have one choice over Philippe Coutinho - they must follow Manchester United's lead

Philippe Coutinho had a transfer request rejected last summer as Liverpool rebuffed three bids for him from Barcelona
Philippe Coutinho had a transfer request rejected last summer as Liverpool rebuffed three bids for him from Barcelona

Samuel Lovett

Jamie Carragher raises a valid argument. With Philippe Coutinho’s representatives attempting to move heaven and earth to secure a January move to Barcelona, there’s a rather pressing question which needs to be asked: just what is the point?

It’s a question that both parties involved in this never-ending transfer saga need to consider. For Carragher, a man whose blood bleeds, well, red, it’s a no-brainer. In letting Coutinho leave this January, Liverpool would risk both their chances of a top-four finish and progression in the Champions League.

In reality, there are very few players in this current Liverpool side capable of emulating the Brazilian’s talents. His vision, his precision, his composure on the ball – these qualities bring an extra edge to Jurgen Klopp’s side and will be sorely missed when he eventually bids farewell to the Merseyside, whenever that may be.

And whether or not Liverpool have the means to cover over the cracks until Naby Keita’s arrival in the summer remains to be seen. Much has been made of Mohamed Salah’s Anfield renaissance – and rightly so – but this isn’t to assume the Egyptian has the ability to fill the Coutinho-shaped hole that would appear following a January exit. Salah has his own responsibilities to focus on, his own records to break.

Coutinho remains a vital, and seemingly irreplaceable, cog of the Liverpool machine at this point in the season. There is far too much at stake for Klopp and his men. He cannot be allowed to leave – for now at least.

It’s a starkly different picture across the divide. For Barcelona, there’s ultimately very little need to sign the Brazilian at this moment in time. The league title is all but wrapped up, Coutinho would be ineligible to play in their European campaign and record-signing Ousmane Dembele is returning from his four-month injury lay-off. 

For a club like Barcelona, there’s a sense of wanting one’s cake and eating it. In forcing through this deal, the Catalans would be doing little more than reminding the footballing world of their phenomenal buying power and ability to bully other clubs.

There is, of course, the unlikely scenario that Liverpool block such a deal – until the summer, that is – only for Coutinho to go on strike such is his deep desire to join Barcelona. But with the World Cup looming large in the not-so-far distance, such an act of defiance would serve nobody’s interests.

Which brings us back to Carragher and what comes next. On this occasion, it involves following Manchester United's lead. As the Old Trafford club did with Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008, and as RB Leipzig have already done with Naby Keita, Liverpool’s best bet is to agree a transfer fee with Barcelona for Coutinho now and let him leave in the summer. It's the least the player deserves, too, having kept his head down and got on with the job at hand since first handing in a transfer request last summer.

Such a compromise would, hopefully, appease both parties, discourage Coutinho from striking and, most importantly, allow Liverpool to head into the back end of this season at full strength. With the waters unsettled as they are, it’s an agreement that could bring some calm and clarity to the Merseyside, enabling Klopp and his men to focus on the long road ahead.

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