On January 6, 2018, Barcelona bought Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool for €145m, becoming the club’s most expensive acquisition in the process. At the time, Coutinho was regarded as one of the best attacking midfielders in world football. He was brought into the squad to replace the legendary Andres Iniesta – who was departing from the club at the end of that season. However, things didn’t work out as they were expected to for the diminutive attacker.
Coutinho showed promising signs in his first few months in Spain, scoring goals and making assists. He got on very well with Luis Suárez, having been team-mates together at Liverpool. Fast forward to 2018-19 and Coutinho became inconsistent and had often found himself on the Barça bench. Towards the end of last season, he began to receive boos from a frustrated Camp Nou – he wasn’t living up to his transfer fee.
The culés weren’t happy with his celebration against Manchester United in the Champions League quarter-final second leg tie, an act that just increased the fans’ frustration towards the player. Coutinho defended his celebration, having received criticism from former Brazil forward Rivaldo for putting his fingers in his ears at the Camp Nou crowd.
In a post on Instagram, he said he didn’t mean any disrespect by his actions. “We should never listen to people who will demotivate us because their speeches only deviate us from the real focus we should take. Never in my life have I disrespected anyone, inside or out of football.”
Barcelona eventually came to the conclusion that loaning him to another club was the best option. Initially, the plan was to include him in the deal which would bring Neymar back to the Camp Nou – but he wasn’t interested at the time. Coutinho had instead opted to play for Bayern Munich after an agreement was reached with the player for a season-long loan deal with an option to buy.
The German club still haven’t made their final decision on Coutinho but they will most likely not activate the buy-out clause. Now the situation gets even more complicated than ever before. Barcelona could try to sell him in the summer or add him into a player-swap deal. With reports suggesting the club want to invest in new attacking options – a significant cash injection from selling Coutinho would enable fresh faces to join. Quique Setién, Barça’s head coach, is a big fan of Coutinho and his style of play. With Coutinho in his team, Setién could play his favoured 3-4-1-2, with Coutinho functioning in the hole between midfield and attack. Or perhaps the free role will be left for Lionel Messi and only Lionel Messi.
If Barcelona get Coutinho back, Setién won’t turn down the chance to reinvigorate him and turn him into the player he was in the English Premier League.
If the board of the Catalan club do not agree with Setién, they will try to sell him. Chelsea have been linked with a potential deal to bring him to London. They were interested last summer as well but couldn’t reach an agreement due to the transfer ban put in place at Stamford Bridge. They are hoping to get the player on a loan deal with an option to buy, having already contacted Barcelona to find out the conditions required for a transfer.
The Barcelona board may take Setién’s word and trust him to turn the player brought to Catalonia for €145m back into his former self, but at this point, it seems like they will look to move Coutinho on come summertime.