Thursday 14 December 2017

Philippe Coutinho commits to Liverpool, but Reds should remember Luis Suarez, and Barcelona

Liverpool fans have reason to be suspicious at the new deal. Getty
Liverpool fans have reason to be suspicious at the new deal. Getty

Simon Hughes

Depending on what you read and who you decide to listen to, Philippe Coutinho’s new five-year Liverpool contract either reflects the best of times or the worst of times.

Globally, the deal was widely celebrated across social media when the announcement was made at 8am this morning. “Great news to go to bed to…” noted one fan group from America’s western seaboard.

On Merseyside, however, the moment was met with some scepticism. “A January signing at last…” was one observation. “That’s him off then,” claimed another.

Someone else was concerned that £150,000-a-week does not sound enough in today’s market before he was corrected by a spreadsheet-wielding statto, which supposedly revealed the wages of all the players in Barcelona’s first team squad.

Coutinho? At Liverpool, he’s on a little more than Sergio Busquets but a little less than Andres Iniesta. Supposedly.

Barcelona, of course, is the club that will take Coutinho away from Liverpool if history is repeated considering what happened in 2013-14 with Luis Suárez, who, like Coutinho, signed a fresh long-term agreement to stay at Anfield in the wintertime only to leave the following summer.

“I am delighted to have agreed a new deal with Liverpool and have my future secured for the long term,” Suárez told Liverpool’s website in December. “I believe I can achieve the ambitions of winning trophies and playing at the very highest level with Liverpool. My aim is to help get us there as quickly as possible.”

Come early July a statement appeared on the same Internet platform, headlining simply: ‘Suárez to leave.’

Those observers in a more positive frame of mind who speak about Coutinho’s future will remind that while Liverpool were protective about the particulars of their final arrangement with Suárez, there is no release clause in the deal for Coutinho. They will remind as well that Suárez was 27 then and Coutinho is 24: their characters are different, their levels of influence at Liverpool are not the same (though they could prove to be) and while it was well known that Suárez wanted to play for Barcelona one day – largely because his wife’s family were based there having moved from Montevideo – Coutinho has fewer emotional reasons to leave.

Unlike Suárez before him, indeed, Coutinho has never agitated for a move away – as Suárez did in the summer of 2013 when he wanted to go to Arsenal. “Liverpool feels like my home,” Coutinho said earlier this season. “I feel happy, settled and comfortable here with the city and the people.”

Fundamentally, it will be pointed out that merely by signing, it shows some form of commitment from the player, especially when you consider how it ended with Raheem Sterling after he refused the offers made by Liverpool. Surely Liverpool and their new sporting director Michael Edwards can’t be criticised for apparently securing the stay of the best player in their squad for at least some of his best years at the very worst?

It is understandable there are some doubts, though. Having spent the last eight years achieving the opposite, Liverpool keeping an influential figure like Coutinho and it being treated like a cause for celebration – presented in more ways than one as a big deal – is a reflection of a drop in standards.

They will be suspicious of the timing and not swallow the “best signing LFC could make this January” line used by Luis García, the club’s former Spanish forward, especially in the wake of Jürgen Klopp’s admittance last weekend that despite efforts to sign new players, none had arrived because of reluctance inside other clubs to sell. Coutinho, after all, has just returned from injury so his presence alone should make it feel like one of those new signings managers always speak of.

Ultimately, what has happened is this: Liverpool have strengthened their position and safeguarded themselves against losing Coutinho sooner than they might do otherwise. The club, by now, should be fully aware of the tactics Barcelona use when they want someone. When Suárez went there, the deal was concluded after a procession of former Barcelona greats and people linked to the Nou Camp had started to talk publicly about the Uruguayan’s suitability – what a great signing he would be alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar.

In November, similar comments started to appear about the hypnotic skills of Coutinho. The Spanish newspaper, Sport yelled: “Objetivo Coutinho,” before Xavi took to the stand. “Coutinho is a player I have always thought is special,” he revealed. “There are not many players that can improve Barcelona, but if you are asking me if he is one of them, on this form, I think he is. Technically he is very good. He would suit Barcelona's philosophy well.”

Rivaldo – Coutinho’s countryman – was next to the megaphone, “I think that this transfer might happen…” he said before leaving a rather fatalistic warning from a Liverpool perspective.

“…Barcelona is always going to attract the best, isn't it?”

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