Can Liverpool keep Philippe Coutinho?

“Barcelona and Real Madrid, will come looking for Philippe (Coutinho) in a few more seasons, just like they did with Luis (Suarez).”

This was the view of Steven Gerrard in his My Story, his new autobiography.

Coutinho, 23, has been the shining light in a difficult 18 months for Liverpool

Signed from Inter Milan for £8.5m in January 2013, Coutinho is a player that Reds fans love to watch and he is now fulfilling his vast potential. He is a player that new Reds manager Jurgen Klopp must be excited about working with. The Brazilian magician, dubbed ‘Dynamo’ by his teammates, is a player Klopp could build a team around.

With Liverpool’s failure to retain the services of their key players in recent years, fans could be forgiven for feeling anxious over Coutinho’s future.

Indeed, recent rumours and reports would suggest that the top clubs will come looking for Coutinho sooner than Gerrard expected.

Fellow Brazilian international David Luiz recently warned that:

“Coutinho made the choice to stay at Liverpool without Champions League football this season. I don’t think he will make that choice again.” 

The best need to be playing with the best. Coutinho is the best midfield player in England right now. That is great for him, but when you play at that level the big clubs will notice you.

If Liverpool don’t qualify this season for the Champions League, I am sure he will be the most in demand player in Europe next summer.”

It is rumoured that Man City are weighing up a move for Coutinho, and that he could command a fee in the region of £50 million.

However, Liverpool fans will be more optimistic that their Kop favourite will stay given Klopp’s recent appointment. Reds supporters will be hoping that the charismatic German will soon be able to offer Coutinho Champion’s League football at Anfield.

Liverpool fans will be more worried to hear that Barcelona and Real Madrid have been linked with the diminutive playmaker. Both clubs have also been accused in the past of talking up potential targets, sometimes in a bid to unsettle the player in question.

Last May, Ronaldinho was glowing in his praise of Coutinho, and commented that Coutinho would be perfect for Barcelona: “I can’t speak for him and I can’t speak for Barcelona – but I know what Barcelona look for in a player and he has all those qualities.”

This might be shrugged off by some as an innocent observation, but the links to Barcelona didn’t end there. As recently as last week, Neymar said:

“I see many Brazilian players with quality today. But one that I like and I think could play here is Coutinho. He has the style of Barcelona.”

Admittedly, this is far from conclusive proof that a Barcelona bid is imminent. However, when we gaze back through recent history, both Madrid and Barca have deployed similar tactics when in pursuit  of Premier League targets.

Luka Modric

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Take Luka Modric. In August 2012, the diminutive Croatian playmaker moved from Spurs to Madrid in a deal worth around £30 million.

This transfer took place after Madrid courted the player for some time, and Madrid talked up the player before the move.

When asked about Modrić in 2012, Aitor Karanka (then assistant manager at Madrid) replied:

“Which club would not want a player like him?

“He is an outstanding footballer and had a great tournament (Euro 2012). It is clear that he would fit in Madrid.”

Gareth Bale

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Madrid’s protracted and public pursuit of Gareth Bale is another example of such tactics. Figures at Madrid, on both the coaching and playing staff, talked up Bale during the pursuit.

Ironically, Modrić himself was involved in this. He stated that Bale would ‘fit perfectly’ into the Madrid team:

“Since Madrid is the team of the galaxy, Bale would fit perfectly, we could really use him.”

Zinedine Zidane also failed to quash the rumours: “I think Real Madrid have made their admiration of Gareth Bale very clear – and it has been made clear that we would not be put off by the cost of the player.”

Luis Suarez

Suarez

More worryingly for Liverpool fans, figures at Camp Nou were also talking up Luis Suarez before his eventual departure to Barcelona in 2014. Barca had long been linked with the Uruguayan, and players and club officials alike spoke about Suarez before the move.

After Suarez’ infamous bite on Giorgio Chiellini, Barcelona sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said: “I am not analysing the Luis Suarez issue from the Barca point of view, but having the character and humility to recognise an error is important,” which seemed to attempt to justify Barcelona’s interest in the player.

Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic also commented on Suarez in the aftermath of the biting incident:

“The fact he has had the character and the strength to go in front of everyone and say sorry says a lot about him as a person.

“Not every person has that strength to admit they have done something stupid.
‘Regardless of whether the club signs him or not, his quality is unquestionable.”

Inevitably, Suarez signed for Barcelona for £75 million soon after, and Liverpool fans were left bemoaning his departure.

Interestingly, Coutinho’s agent Kia Joorabchian has recently attempted to quash rumours of the Brazilian leaving Liverpool:

“Philippe is extremely happy at Liverpool. He signed a new long term contract towards the end of last season that represents his ambition and his feeling for Liverpool,” he said.

“Reports that I have been talking to Real Madrid about Philippe are not true. His aspirations are to qualify for the Champions League with Liverpool this season and to win a trophy. That is all that he is focused on – and nothing else.”

In light of the recent past, should Liverpool fans be worried about Coutinho? Are recent comments a coincidence, or are Barcelona and Madrid stepping up their interest in the Brazilian, whose stock continues to rise?

by David Smith

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