The beaming smile from Phillipe Coutinho during his unveiling at Barcelona faded quicker than expected. All the glitz and the glamour that greeted the tricky playmaker’s arrival has since failed to mask the sheer disappointment from both parties.
The LaLiga giants splashed out a fee of £145million to sign him from Liverpool, a deal which smashed their club record. Coutinho was plunged into a world of uncertainty and a seemingly bleak future after struggling to settle. Neither side can claim the switch has worked out for them.
With Barcelona openly voicing their desire to cut their losses and ship out Coutinho this summer, it appeared Arsenal would be the club brave enough to take the plunge and broker a deal. Unfortunately for the former Inter Milan talent, the North London outfit have since walked away after choosing instead to focus on signing Willian from Chelsea on a free transfer.
The exact reasons behind Coutinho’s dramatic fall from grace are many. His Barcelona medical diagnosed a thigh injury, which he had picked up before jetting out to Spain, and the star was ruled out for three weeks straight from the start. It was a worrying portent of what was to come.
‘I am very happy, it’s a dream come true and I hope to be up to the job on the field,’ Coutinho told Barcelona fans after putting pen to paper, with that cheeky grin of his still in place. Unfortunately for him, his dream soon soured into the very worst of nightmares.
He had even reportedly committed £11.5m of his own money to help force through the deal. Those at Liverpool were perhaps quietly glad to see the back of him after all his efforts to leave.
The Anfield giants had rejected three offers from Barcelona and even turned down a transfer request from the player himself. The final bid from the Blaugrana’s hierarchy was £118m – a total package which included add-ons equating to over £30m.
But they were met by a steadfast Liverpool, who were unwilling to lower their valuation or expectations during negotiations. Barcelona promptly fired back by insisting that they would not be drawn into a bidding war.
The rest is now history, of course. The impasse was broken and Coutinho eventually found himself embarking on his ‘dream’ move.
His highly-anticipated debut arrived in late January 2018 against former employers Espanyol in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals. Teed up by ex-Liverpool team-mate Luis Suarez, Coutinho netted his maiden goal on February 8 of the same year against Valencia in the next stage of the competition.
Any initial promise soon faded out, however. He made 22 appearances during the second half of the campaign, scoring 10 goals in total.
But the superstar still felt like a jarring and ineffective cog in the Barcelona winning machine. Coutinho appeared out of place, often drifting aimlessly across the field and failing to spark a real connection with his fellow attackers.
Admittedly, struggling to adapt at a new club isn’t a serious issue to begin with. But at Barcelona, it may be the end of the world. The expectations are sky high and the pressure is unforgiving.
Coutinho was also cup tied for the 2017-18 Champions League campaign. He therefore could only watch on from the sidelines in horror as Barcelona crashed out of the competition in the most explosive of circumstances against Roma.
His second season at the club, and his first full one, proved just as ill-fated. Just 11 more goals followed in all competitions, which saw him shipped out to Bayern Munich on loan just a year and a half into his lucrative Barcelona deal.
In terms of a trophy haul, it would not be fair to label Coutinho’s time in Catalonia as unsuccessful. With him, Barcelona won the Copa del Rey, the Spanish Super Cup and two league titles.
It may have been this respectable haul, and his occasional flashes of brilliance, which convinced Bayern Munich to bring him in on a short-term deal. The Bundesliga champions were open to paying his full £11m-a-year wage package, and also splashed out £8m on an initial loan fee.
But a change in the dugout in Bavaria once again put a swift end to Coutinho’s hopes of long-term success. Niko Kovac was dismissed and replaced by Hansi Flick, who preferred a different system and wasn’t afraid to bench the Brazilian for the good of the team.
When he was handed a chance to shine, Coutinho was often fielded on the left or right of a three-man strike force. His preferred position, and undoubtedly the one in which he has shown the most quality, remains the playmaker position.
‘I hope the dam breaks and he shows the quality he’s got,’ Flick admitted despite the signs appearing far from promising.
Bayern have extended Coutinho’s loan stint until the end of this elongated season, but they will not be taking up the option to make the deal permanent. The clause, had it been triggered, would have cost £109m.
Coutinho netted eight goals in 23 Bundesliga appearances this campaign but has once again failed to make enough of an impact. Despite his travails, his agent Kia Joorabchian has spoken about his client’s desire to have another shot at the Premier League.
It would be a surprising twist in the tale should Coutinho seal a return to England, but there are reportedly several teams interested this summer. Until recently, Arsenal had fronted the queue but appear to have now pulled out due to the imminent arrival of Willian.
That leaves the door open to a high-profile deal for several of the North London club’s top flight rivals. Tottenham, their arch nemesis, may attempt an ambitious coup. Jose Mourinho’s charges have undoubtedly endured a tough campaign, but they will now be able to offer Coutinho a form of European football.
There is no doubting the creative spark provided from Coutinho would be able to help Tottenham kick on under the Portuguese tactician, and talisman Harry Kane would also benefit. The move may even convince the England captain, who has hinted he may leave, to stay put.
Any form of move for Coutinho would be surprising, particularly in this summer of uncertainty, but it would underline Spurs’ ambitions to reach the next level once again for the next campaign.
Leicester may also harbour ambitions of swooping. The Foxes fell painfully short of clinching a spot in the Champions League after a final day defeat to fellow contenders Manchester United, but the club have a proven track record of enticing talent players to the East Midlands.
Brendan Rodgers has pieced together a vibrant and attacking team, and Coutinho would fit right in provided he was afforded his favoured central role. The stumbling block would be concerned with the dynamics of the deal, with Leicester certainly unwilling to match Barcelona’s valuation of the player. An audacious loan move cannot be ruled out, however.
Perhaps the most suited match of them all is Chelsea, but this move now appears the least likely. Coutinho appeared destined to join the club at one stage, but the move never materialised and Frank Lampard has set his sights on other targets.
His pursuit of Kai Havertz has been well documented, and the additions of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech have further bolstered a frontline flowing with ability and creativity.
Unfortunately for Coutinho, there are no obvious escape routes that have presented himself. This summer is pivotal for him, and heading back to Barcelona to spend more time on the sidelines may prove to be the final nail in the coffin for a career that promised so much all those years ago.