January 8, 2018
Football's worst kept secret finally became official. Philippe Coutinho completed his move to Barcelona from Liverpool to become the Catalan's most expensive ever singing. Depending on which paper you read the fee is anywhere between €140-€150 million (plus add-ons). Liverpool did everything they could to hold on to their star player, even asking Barcelona to loan Coutinho back to them for the second half of the season, per Lee Clayton's world exclusive for Mail Sport.
Neymar's departure to PSG last summer immediately set the rumour mill into overdrive, with Barcelona's reasonably public pursuit of the Brazilian hotting up. It became obvious that the player wanted the move over the summer, but after spending over €100 million on Ousmane Dembélé it looked like Barça had replaced Neymar already, leading to doubts over whether they needed or wanted Coutinho any longer.
As it turns out, Barcelona's determination to sign Coutinho only grew, reportedly negotiating with Liverpool since the summer. Nike seemingly confirmed their deal early on their official website, advertising the new Coutinho - Barcelona shirt. Mistake? Most likely? Confirming what we all expected? Probably.
It's hard to not feel happy for Coutinho, who at Liverpool showed progression season after season to develop into one of the Premier League's best playmakers. A typical Brazilian, Coutinho loves to run with the ball and is able to play in tight spaces and not only tries but pulls off some audacious tricks and flicks. He will fit in well at Barcelona. The start of the Premier League season saw Coutinho play infield, rather than cutting in from the left wing. This new position will likely be his look term position as Barcelona see him as Andrés Iniesta's successor.
A couple of years ago it looked as though Iniesta's injuries were starting to get the better of him both physically and mentally with the midfielder looking like a shadow of his former self. So far this season Iniesta looks close back to his best, but Barça know he can't go on forever and needs to be rested. Coutinho will be cup tied for the Champions League, meaning Iniesta can be rested at the weekends in order to be in the best possible for mid-week Champions League ties. With Barça 9 points clear at the top of the La Liga table, the arrival of Coutinho asks the questions of when they'll win the league rather than if.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 8, 2018
"My dream was to come here and these opportunities are unique and I had no doubts. Even though I can't play now in the Champions League, I will be able for the next 5 years" - Philippe Coutinho
The signing of fellow Brazilian, Paulinho that coincided in the departure of Neymar ,was met with disgust from many Barcelona fans who protested to try and remove Josep Maria Bartomeu from his position as club president. Paulinho's fantastic form, that's surprised most fans, has eased the pressure on the Barcelona board, and the record breaking signing of Coutinho has seen those protesting against the board drop massively.
Coutinho has lived in Barcelona before. He spent the second half of the 2011/12 season on loan at Espanyol after not getting enough game time at Inter. He knows what the city and it's people are like and it's easy to see him settling quickly to his new surroundings. Luis Suarez even picked out a house for his family on the same street as Messi and himself. Suarez and Coutinho spent a season and a half together at Liverpool.
Ousmane Dembélé's early season injury meant Ernesto Valverde had to change to a 4-4-2 formation, but with the Frenchman back it's suspected that their famous 4-3-3 will return. A front three of Dembélé, Suarez and Messi, supported by Coutinho in midfield is a devastating prospect. Dembélé is still only 20 years of age, meaning inconsistency is likely but Coutinho's versatility and experience playing from the left will be a valuable asset to Barça.
Barcelona announced that Coutinho will be out for around 20 days with a muscle injury. Barcelona fans will have to wait to see their new star but for someone of Coutinho's ability it'll be well worth it. Playing alongside Messi and Suarez will see Coutinho progress further. There's every chance he can become one of the best in the world. For now, Coutinho can learn from Iniesta and when the day comes, he'll be ready to fill his boots.