• Kelan Sarson

Coutinho and Gerrard reunion: A dream solution for the ageing Brazilian?

Ever since his big money move to Barcelona in 2018 - Liverpool fans angered by their star-man departing - the dream move hasn’t really worked for Philippe Coutinho. Becoming Liverpool’s midfield magician warranted a shot at the Camp Nou, Coutinho simply unplayable in a Liverpool shirt. 54 goals and 45 assists in 201 games at Liverpool made him their star-man, joining from Inter Milan as a talented youngster and leaving as one of the hottest talents in world football. This, however, is where Coutinho’s story begins to unravel.

The Barca faithful saw him as a direct replacement for Andres Iniesta seeing out his career in Japan, their new Brazilian trickster with Neymar leaving for PSG too. He would be mismanaged during his time at the Camp Nou, playing regularly in positions that didn’t suit him. At Liverpool, the entire team revolved around the magic of the Brazilian in a number 10 role. Everything was centred on the regular magic Coutinho could conjure up, his role at Barcelona in contrast made him a bit-part piece even with an astronomical transfer fee above his head. Coutinho would fall out of favour with the Barca hierarchy, shipped out on loan to Bayern Munich with everyone at the Camp Nou praying that the deal with the Bavarians would be permanent come the end of the campaign.

Yet, in glimpses at the Allianz Arena, the flair Coutinho showed irregularly with Barca became clear again. Eight goals and six assists over an entire season saw flashes of brilliance re-emerge, a deflected effort looping in against Hoffenheim the pick of the bunch from his goals in Bayern red. The pressure was seemingly off the Brazilian’s shoulders, helped by Bayern’s dominance whilst he featured - Hansi Flick steering The Bavarians to the Bundesliga title with ease, Coutinho enjoying his football once more under the German manager. His best football at Liverpool coincidentally came under Jurgen Klopp, another German utilising him effectively.

Impressing with Bayern Munich didn’t, however, make him stick around with Barcelona - the dream move turning even more sour with a few appearances under Koeman last season after returning, before injury issues kept Coutinho sidelined. Rumours linking Coutinho with a return to the Premier League had dominated the January transfer talk, a return to Anfield was even on the cards. His brilliance for The Reds in the past must have made it a tempting proposition for Klopp and co, Coutinho’s trademark screamers from outside the box at Anfield still endearing him to a fanbase that was gutted to see him leave for Spain. Yet, the transfer fee Liverpool managed to get for the Brazilian paved the way for their current squad to excel - without Coutinho’s departure, would Liverpool have won the title with players such as Allisson and Van Dijk joining?

A reunion of sorts with Liverpool has, however, occurred. He hasn’t had the reunion you might expect, linking up with former teammate and Reds legend Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa where the ex-Liverpool midfielder is now manager. In their playing days together, Gerrard was the steely captain prepared to put his arm around the shoulder of the magical Brazilian leading the Liverpool attacks. Gerrard will have Coutinho’s utmost respect, a huge pulling factor in Coutinho swapping Barcelona for Birmingham.

Moreover, Aston Villa are an exciting side under their new boss. Aston Villa’s attacking talent is plentiful, the likes of Ollie Watkins sticking out as their main striker with Emi Buendia showing signs of promise since signing from Norwich in the summer. John McGinn is also a key performer for Gerrard’s men, their main man centrally. Yet, ever since Jack Grealish departed for Manchester City, a flair player who can play centrally and down the wings has gone missing. The likes of Douglas Luiz and Marvelous Nakamba are solid midfielders in their own right, but provide solidity over anything special for Villa. This is where the Coutinho signing makes sense, moments of flair and magic that were lost when Grealish left could well re-emerge with the Brazilian coming in on loan.

Some will say that Coutinho will struggle with the demands of Premier League football again, a player who has struggled to remain injury-free for some time. He has been out of the Premier League for a number of seasons, failing to re-ignite any of his past glories in his time away. But, with a manager who has vocal admiration for the Brazilian and a clear vacancy Coutinho could fill in the Aston Villa line-up, it could well be that Aston Villa is the best possible destination for Coutinho at this current point in time. If the Brazilian showcases his Liverpool best with Aston Villa, a whole host of avenues are opened up for an ageing player. If the loan spell fails, Coutinho is staring down the twilight of his career with little to no hope left.