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Philippe Coutinho: Analyzing One Of The Biggest Cases Of ‘What Could Have Been?’ In The History Of Football

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“Go somewhere else, to Barcelona, to Bayern Munich, to Real Madrid, and you will be just another player. Here you can be something more.” 

Jurgen Klopp made this statement to Philippe Coutinho when Spanish giants Barcelona started to show strong interest in the Brazilian. The midfielder blossomed under Klopp’s tutelage and many Barcelona supporters believed he was a perfect replacement for their star midfielder Andreas Iniesta who was getting old.

Despite giving reassurances to Klopp and Liverpool fans that he would remain at the club, less than a year later he still joined Barcelona. In doing so, he became the third most expensive player in football history. There were so many controversies in the months leading to his departure from Anfield that did not go down well with Liverpool management and fans alike.

Unfortunately, the Brazilian could not rediscover his prowess at Barcelona. A loan spell at German side Bayern Munich also did not help him achieve this. Eventually, the Catalans cut their losses with Coutinho and sold him to English side Aston Villa for €20 million. 

They spent €166 million to get the midfielder by the way.

It seems Coutinho couldn’t even cut it at Aston Villa as the club loaned him out to Al Duhail SC, a club in Qatar. From being one of the most talented midfielders in the world and a potential Iniesta replacement to playing for a relatively unknown club, things have certainly not favored ‘the little magician.’

In order to fully understand how it all went wrong for Philippe Coutinho we must first take a look at where it all started from.

In 2008, at the age of 16, Coutinho joined Inter Milan from Vasco da Gama in his native Brazil. His talent and potential were evident even at a young age, and Inter saw him as a prospect for the future. He initially joined the club’s youth setup, gradually making his way through the ranks.

It was during the 2010-2011 season that Coutinho began to make his mark at Inter Milan. He made his Serie A debut and started to feature more prominently in the first team under then-manager Rafael Benítez. Coutinho’s technical ability, dribbling skills, and creativity on the ball caught the attention of fans and pundits alike.

Coutinho’s time at Inter Milan came to an end in January 2013 when he made a move to Liverpool in the Premier League. The transfer fee was reported to be around £8.5 million. The move to Liverpool presented Coutinho with a fresh start and the opportunity to play in one of the most competitive leagues in the world.

Under Jurgen Klopp, Coutinho blossomed. He became a key player in Liverpool’s attacking force, renowned for his dribbling, passing, and long shots. Alongside Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, they formed a formidable attacking quartet. His success earned him accolades and solidified his status as a world-class player.

Despite the assurances that he would remain at Anfield, ‘the little magician’ could not resist the temptation of joining a club as historic as Barcelona. Many also believed that Liverpool was not ambitious enough for him and that’s why he opted to leave. 

In the months leading up to Philippe Coutinho’s departure from Liverpool, several controversies emerged that strained his relationship with the club and its supporters. One significant controversy revolved around accusations of faking injuries to force a move to Barcelona. Coutinho was sidelined with various minor injuries during this period, leading to speculation that he was deliberately avoiding playing to expedite his transfer.

Additionally, reports surfaced suggesting that Coutinho offered to contribute his personal funds to facilitate his transfer to Barcelona. It was alleged that he was willing to sacrifice a portion of his own salary to bridge the gap between Liverpool’s valuation of him and Barcelona’s offer.

In January 2018, Liverpool’s star player eventually fulfilled his ambition of joining Barcelona.

It came as a surprise to many that Coutinho really struggled to find form with the Catalans. Barcelona’s possession-based style didn’t mesh well with Coutinho’s skillset. The Brazilian thrived on creating chances with quick passes and dribbling, which often conflicted with Barcelona’s rhythm of play. 

In August 2019, the Catalans decided to loan the midfielder to German giants Bayern Munich. Playing under Hansi Flick at Bayern, Coutinho found some freedom and enjoyed a decent spell. Even at Bayern, the team’s direct, attacking style wasn’t the perfect fit for his skillset compared to the creative freedom he enjoyed at Liverpool. 

While he performed well, Bayern ultimately opted not to exercise their purchase option, suggesting he wasn’t a perfect fit for their long-term strategy.

After returning from his loan spell with Bayern, Countinho still could not fit into Barcelona’s system of play.

In January 2022, he was loaned out to the English side, Aston Villa. Many were optimistic he would finally rediscover his form now that he is back in the Premier League, where he truly discovered his prowess. Some Liverpool fans were even hoping Klopp would make a play at bringing back Coutinho to Anfield but this never came to fruition.

Coutinho initially showed glimpses of his former magic. He displayed his playmaking abilities and scored a few goals, helping Villa climb the Premier League table. However, as the season progressed, his influence waned. Consistency became an issue and his impact on games diminished.

Despite the inconsistent loan spell, Aston Villa surprisingly decided to make the move permanent for a relatively low fee of €20 million in May 2022. With the arrival of manager Unai Emery in October 2022, Coutinho’s playing time significantly decreased. His style didn’t seem to fit Emery’s tactics, and he often found himself on the bench.

With limited opportunities at Villa, Coutinho was linked with moves away in the summer of 2023. In August 2023, Coutinho secured a loan move to Al-Duhail, a club in the Qatar Stars League.

This is the story so far of Philippe Coutinho, the little magician.

As things turned out, Klopp’s playing style was a perfect system for bringing out the best in him and sadly, wanting more led to the Brazilians achieving less (on a personal level anyway). 

Should he have remained at Liverpool, there is very little doubt Coutinho would not go down as the greatest Brazilian to ever play in the Premier League. He was already a fan favorite among Liverpool fans and would have certainly become a bigger folk hero than the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Mo Salah.

Unfortunately, this was not how it turned out to be.

His story is not all doom and gloom by the way. Coutinho won the La Liga trophy twice and the Copa del Rey once while at Barcelona. He also won the Bundesliga trophy once, the DFB-Pokal trophy once, and the much coveted Champions League trophy once while on loan at Bayern Munich. This makes six trophies in total.

However, it goes without saying that the midfielder is just a speck in the history of both of these clubs despite winning these trophies. Jurgen Klopp was right, if Coutinho were to leave Liverpool, he would just become another player.

This article was updated 2 months ago

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