After Neymar completed his eye-watering world record transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona were left reeling and in desperate need of a replacement.
As a result, they’ve not kept their interest in Philippe Coutinho particularly quiet and it’s ruffled some feathers at Anfield, with Jurgen Klopp revealing how dismayed he’d be if Liverpool bowed to the riches of one of the world’s greatest clubs.
The party line remained that Coutinho was not for sale at any price and Liverpool had reportedly rejected bids totalling up to £90 million, though the Brazilian has since rocked the boat and handed in an official transfer request in an attempt to engineer a move to the Camp Nou.
Faced with a monumental decision on the eve of the Premier League season, what should Liverpool do?
A chance to join the elite
It’s not a position any club ever want to be in, held to a ransom by a bigger club and your own player, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Liverpool pride themselves on their history, but the truth is that they’ve witnessed a dramatic fall from grace from the dominance of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
They’re not the big club they used to be, but the Coutinho saga is a chance to rectify this.
It’s not silverware or anything of the sort, but rejecting the Brazilian’s transfer request is a chance to make a massive statement that the Reds aren’t a selling club and they won’t be pushed around by those perceived as bigger than them.
The true mark of an elite side, not the trophies they win or the quality of players they attract, is whether they can keep hold of their stars. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, even Chelsea, sell on their own terms when they want to sell, for the most part (barring the Neymar deal of course).
Liverpool can join that inner circle of elite clubs that dictate their own terms by rejecting Coutinho’s request. It sends a message that the Reds aren’t one to be pushed around.
The risks of an unhappy player
However, the major concern is that keeping an unhappy player at Anfield against their will be detrimental to the overall harmony of the squad.
Jurgen Klopp is a manager that attempts to foster togetherness and unity amongst his squad and in truth such a team spirit does have a discernible effect on performances, particularly in those games where you’re down a goal and perhaps need the team to rally together and fight back, for example.
Having one bad apple has the potential to spoil the rest of the fruit bowl. Would Klopp want a miserable Coutinho wandering around Anfield projecting his dissatisfaction onto others and perhaps turning their heads in the process?
I suppose the counter-argument is that Coutinho is a professional and will continue to do his job as per the terms of his contract, waiting until the following summer to get his move, but there is every possibility he under-performs as his head and heart aren’t in the game or with the club.
In a highly competitive Premier League with Champions League football to contend with too, every player, no matter the importance of their role, needs to pull their weight as one. Having players pull in different directions is near on impossible.
Creating more problems than it solves?
Perhaps it is better to sell Coutinho now therefore, rid the club of an unhappy influence and begin the process of rebuilding. However, this could potentially create more problems than it solves.
The 25-year-old is Liverpool’s star man, the focal point of Klopp’s project and the one through which all play flows. He plays a unique role for the Reds and they don’t have another player of his ilk, whilst they’re also rare to find in the market.
It leaves Klopp with a significant headache only three weeks before the transfer window shuts. Replacing Coutinho will be extraordinarily difficult and beginning the season without a replacement is suicide to their season.
Can Liverpool actually afford to sell him now and risk ending the transfer window empty-handed?
A change in style
Perhaps they can, yes. What we’ve noticed over the course of their pre-season campaign is that Coutinho has played a slightly deeper role and there’s less emphasis on him as the playmaker.
Whilst he does still control games and look to be on the ball as much as possible, Klopp has moved from a possession-orientated game to a more direct style of play, utilising the pace and power of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah on the flanks.
In doing so, therefore, there’s less creative responsibility on Coutinho and it allows Liverpool to potentially find a solution to his absence. The focus would be on quick transitions to Mane and Salah, almost like Luis Enrique’s Barcelona in the sense that it would bypass the midfield and use the unit purely for defensive work instead of possession-based build-up.
RealSport verdict: Don’t sell Coutinho
Whilst selling Coutinho removes an unhappy influence from the club and there are in fact solutions to his absence from the team, it’s my opinion that it creates more problems than it solves.
Liverpool will have to find a replacement in a short amount of time, which is hard to do in today’s market. It’s plausible that they end up with a sub-par player that cost them an arm and a leg.
Firstly, because teams know they’ll have money to spend and charge a premium as a result, and secondly because it’ll likely result in a panic purchase that hasn’t been as thoroughly scouted.
Then you have to consider the effects on the bigger picture. It sends off a bad message to the continent that Liverpool are below elite standing on the European stage, plus it undermines Klopp’s own sentiments that the Brazilian isn’t for sale at any price.
In selling him, it could well force Klopp out of the club if he feels their ambition doesn’t match his own. It’s for these reasons that Liverpool must stay strong in their stance and deny Coutinho his request.
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