Latest News

Monday, January 8, 2018

Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona: Why €160m mega deal was Liverpool at their best

If evidence is needed of where Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool stands today, just consider the devastation, the turmoil that Philippe Coutinho's sale has left...
...oh wait. Scratch that. The place is still standing. Klopp's squad has barely taken a hit. And Liverpool are a staggering €160m better off.
Come Monday, Coutinho will pull on a Barcelona shirt at a packed Nou Camp. But Liverpool? They won't skip a beat. This is nowt like the Luis Suarez sale. It's a different time. A different era. The Klopp era. Coutinho will be missed, sure. But nothing like Suarez. Sadio Mane. Mo Salah. Even Bobby Firmino and the form he's been in. It can be argued - with some justification - that all three attackers would warrant selection ahead of their now former teammate. With his one, Liverpool have played a blinder.
Barca and the Catalan press are trying to save face this morning. This was a 'six month deal' in the making, apparently. The final fee agreed, it's being argued, was only a slight percentage higher than the last of the three bids tabled in the summer.
Don't you believe it.
This pursuit dates back over a year. Sources close to Coutinho's camp tell that Barca first made an attempt for the midfielder in December of last year. A bid wasn't lodged, but Barca had made Liverpool aware they were ready to do business. The Reds were reluctant and informed intermediaries they'd only get around a table if Barca were prepared to start negotiations at £70m. They refused.
Today, Liverpool have more than doubled that original valuation - and for a player Cup-tied from the Champions League. It'd be a pity if Barca, with €160m worth of ineligible talent sitting in the stands, were bundled out of the competition by Chelsea...
And the Champions League is an important card in this deck. It was the centre piece of Klopp's management of Coutinho through this first half of the season. As the German mentioned in Saturday's media release, Coutinho had been "insistent", even before the start of the season, on joining Barca. Somehow, Klopp was able to navigate a transfer request, incessant public touting from Barca for the player - and a backlash from Reds fans, to reach the Champions League round of 16. The key was his conversation with Coutinho after seeing off Hoffenheim in the qualifier. 'Get us out of the group', Klopp told Coutinho in their sit-down, 'and if Bartomeu is serious, we'll let you go'.
Coutinho had banked on Josep Maria Bartomeu, the Barca president, being 'serious' in August. That the transfer window shut with no deadline day offer tabled, left the Brazilian hurt.
Assurances were soon relayed via Kia Joorabchian, one of his entourage. Barca would come again. Bartomeu felt obligated after convincing the player to slap in a transfer demand as tensions rose among the three parties.
But Klopp's Euro request - and Coutinho's willingness to take the challenge - helped keep a lid on things. This move, all €160m, owed much more to Liverpool's side of the table and the class they showed than the behaviour at the other end.
From directors like Oscar Grau and Pep Segura, to players like Paulinho and even captain Andres Iniesta, they've been happy to publicly tout a Barca move to Coutinho since August. Only Ernesto Valverde, the Barca coach, has shown any class over these past four months in refusing, politely, to take the bait from a very supportive local press. Even Nike were at it last week...
That apology is still to arrive. Even an explanation, it seems, is below them. It's mind blowing the lack of contrition from Nike for their blunder, declaring Coutinho's move a done deal. Barca, we've since learned, privately apologised within hours of Nike's cock-up being splashed across the world's media. Coutinho's camp also sought out Reds officials to express their disappointment. Neither party were actually responsible for the mess, but they recognised the need to get in touch and smooth things. But Nike? Nothing. For an institution like Liverpool, with it's millions of fans around the world, to be the subject of such an embarrassing error and with no public note of regret is just ridiculous.
But again, it only reinforced the contrast in behaviour of the two negotiating parties.
Kop fans will be disappointed. But Liverpool, from the board, to Klopp and the players (we'll long remember Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain protecting Coutinho in one post-match interview), have checked every box on how to make the best of an inevitable transfer.
They may've lost a top drawer player. But Coutinho is one who can be replaced. Especially with more than double what Barca refused to pay just a year ago.