The Dream That Turned Into A Nightmare: Philipe Coutinho's Story
“Stay here and they will end up building a statue in your honour, go somewhere else, to Barcelona, Bayern, Real Madrid, anywhere and you will just be another player. Here you can be something more.”
- Jurgen Klopp to Philippe Coutinho before his £142 million transfer to Barcelona in 2017.
Now almost 5 years on and in wake of the Coutinho’s latest loan move to Aston Villa the loveable German was right.
So, what exactly went wrong for Coutinho, who in a 5-year spell saw him make 144 appearances across two clubs and win a champions league, two La Liga titles, two Copa Del Rey’s, a Bundesliga title, a DFB Pokal and a Copa America?
5 years and 9 trophies for the Brazilian magician yet the majority of football fans would regard Coutinho’s move to Barcelona as a flop and certainly not worth the £142 million transfer fee. In fact, Barcelona could end up making a £96 million pound loss on the deal, if Aston Villa decide to activate the £33 million option to buy in the loan contract.
Why, despite the plethora of trophies, is Coutinho on his way back to England?
For the answer to this you must look into why Coutinho was signed for Barcelona in the first place. The most commonly suggested answer to that question was that he was supposed to be a replacement for his compatriot Neymar. So, alongside the pressure of being one of the world's most expensive signings he had the extra pressure of filling one of his nation's greatest ever players boots.
The logic of the transfer was sound all except one crucial detail. Coutinho has never at any point in his career been as good as Neymar. That is no slight on Coutinho, as for most players the job of filling Neymar's boots in that magical trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar was nothing short of impossible. At the time Neymar was regarded by most as the 3rd best player in world football and as close as we would get to Messi and Ronaldo in a generation. Therefore, to expect Coutinho to come and do a job as good as Neymar did in MSN was foolish from the Barcelona hierarchy.
Season Reviews 2017/18
Coutinho joined Barcelona midway through the 2017/18 season, a year in which they won the La Liga title 14 points clear of Atletico Madrid; alongside completing the domestic double with an impressive 5-0 victory over Sevilla in which Coutinho scored a penalty. A successful first half a season for the Brazilian. The only real area for his professional disappointment was that he left Liverpool to win the Champions League, but if he had stayed in Merseyside for just another 6 months, he’d have had his first chance at the final of the competition.
In Coutinho’s first full season as a Barcelona player they won the La Liga title by a respectable margin and got to a Champion's league semi-final by beating Lyon 5-1 with goals from Messi, Coutinho, Pique and Dembele. They beat Manchester united 4-0 with goals from Messi and Coutinho and went into the semi-final against Liverpool with confidence (rightfully so), as they had dispatched of them 3-0 at the Nou camp with goals from fellow former Liverpool man Suarez and Messi.
That was as good as it got for Barcelona however, as a corner taken quickly and a masterclass from Origi and Wijnaldum saw a heavily weakened Liverpool rise above the 3-goal deficit and win the tie. This was the lowest of lows for Coutinho. He had left Liverpool for glory of the champions league and was forced to watch on from the subs bench as another young starlet took advantage of a lapse in concentration from Barcelona.
Off a set piece fired quickly into the feet of Divock Origi, the striker had the simple task of lifting the ball into the corner; from this it was all over for Barcelona.
That made it two European embarrassments for Barcelona in 2 years and the general consensus was that although Coutinho had some good moments in a Barcelona shirt he didn’t actually make them any better.
In the summer of 2019 Coutinho made a move to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich. This is without a doubt the best season Coutinho had since leaving Liverpool both individually and in terms of trophies.
Over the course of the 19/20 season Coutinho managed a direct goal involvement every 101 minutes making him statistically one of the most dangerous attackers in Europe.
As Bayern Munich went on to win the treble (Bundesliga, Champions League and DFB Pokal) in a
season with so much uncertainty, Coutinho managed to look past the problems of the Covid-19 pandemic and work hard towards a very respectable season.
The Champion’s League was a trophy that had, up to this point, eluded Coutinho his entire career, but going into the one leg knockout format UEFA had decided upon due to the Covid-19 pandemic Bayern were undoubtedly the favourites.
Coutinho put the nightmares of last season’s knock out defeat to Liverpool behind him and lifted the trophy he had left Liverpool for in the first place.
In a 3-game spell where Bayern scored 14 goals and went on to be crowned Champions of Europe, Coutinho scored perhaps the two goals most indicative of what was wrong with his transfer to Barcelona in the first place. As he came off the bench in the 75th minute and scored two goals past his parent club in an 8-2 embarrassment for the Catalans. These two goals signified what was wrong with Barcelona and the Coutinho transfer, £142 million spent on a player who's most significant impact on the club was 2 goals and an assist against them.
A season that will more than likely be forgotten by everybody in years to come.
With a global pandemic, causing all games to be played behind closed doors, led to the final nail in the coffin for Coutinho’s Barcelona career.
Playing just 12 games due to injury meant Coutinho’s season was just as forgettable as the football Barcelona played in the Koeman era.
A loss of Luis Suarez left Barcelona without a forward of world class ability paired with financial problems (partly blamed on deals such as Coutinho and Griezmann) led to difficulties on and off the pitch. These were all compounded by the Barcelona fans worst nightmare. They lost their beloved Messi the following summer.
Although the season was undoubtedly terrible for Barcelona, Coutinho picked up another winner’s medal as despite being inured for the final his teammates went on to win the Copa Del Rey. However despite this, the 2020/21 was a disappointing year for not just Coutinho but world football in general.
On writing this, the date is the 12th of January 2022 and Coutinho's latest club has just lost 1-0 to Manchester United in the FA Cup whilst they sit 13th in the premier league table.
Xavi Hernandez has confirmed that Coutinho has taken a pay cut to join the Villains and the question on everybody's mind is, why?
I believe there to be two answers to this question.
The first one being, two words. Steven Gerrard. The Scouse hero played with Coutinho in the 2013/14 season where Liverpool came unbearably close to their first Premier League title and is most famous for Steven Gerrard's slip. As a result, it’s not beyond belief that Coutinho would want to link up with his former teammate and captain for one last chance at redemption in the UK’s second city.
The second, more obvious reason would be that Coutinho has struggled for game time this season and is out of favour with new Barcelona boss Xavi and is simply looking to get back to his best once again.
Coutinho looks set to make his debut against Manchester United this weekend where Villa and Liverpool fans alike will be hoping he makes an immediate impact and help Villa take all the 3 points.
Hoping aside, whether or not Coutinho be able to find his form again at Villa, remains to be seen.