With the anniversary of Philippe Coutinho’s departure form Liverpool fast approaching, Jack Hallows looks back at “a year without Phil.”
The emotions that are conjured up inside a Liverpool fan upon the uttering of the name “Philippe Coutinho” are generally a mixture of bitterness, anger and above all: disappointment.
The Brazilian midfielder – referred to more nominally as ‘Phil’ – was adored on Merseyside between the years of 2013 and 2017 with hundreds, if not thousands, of Reds fans owning at least one iteration of the Liverpool strip with ‘Coutinho 10’ proudly plastered on the back.
For me, it was our 16/17 away kit.
The black one with red up the sides.
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Even now, every time I look at the kit it brings back memories of that magical display away at Arsenal on the opening day of that season.
Coutinho equalised just before half time with what became a staple of his game, a cracker of a free kick from a ludicrous distance out, before putting the Reds into a 3-1 lead in the second half with a cool finish as he arrived late into the penalty area.
That’s the saddest part about the Reds parting of ways with the Brazilian in January 2018 I suppose. The little magician created so many wonderful memories in a Liverpool shirt with unbelievable goals, genius assists and unfathomable bits of skill just part of it.
It might not have stung so much if he’d just left but he didn’t ‘just leave,’ oh no. Coutinho forced his way out kicking and screaming to the last, desperate to exit the club that loved him so.
Faked injuries, false news stories to create rifts with the manager and even going on strike to try and force his way out as he wasn’t going to be playing anyway.. Coutinho tried literally everything.
Finally, in January this year, it was sanctioned and the Brazilian became the third most expensive transfer of all time behind only Neymar and teenage wonder-kid Kylian Mbappé.
At first, it seemed a match made in heaven with Coutinho admittedly – and annoyingly – looking a Barcelona player through and through.
A goalscoring midfielder with ball control to rival even Europe’s best, creativity to boot and an understanding of intricate, delicate football. No wonder he was initially given the number ’14’ jersey upon joining – made famous of course by the great Johan Cruyff.
In his first six months in Catalonia, Coutinho’s role was clear.
He was to be the successor to Andres Iniesta, the Spanish midfielder having called time on his Barcelona career as his powers began to wane and his legs began to age.
This was something Jürgen Klopp had almost unwittingly done for Coutinho during the Brazilian’s time at Liverpool by transforming him from a left winger/inside forward to an ‘advanced 8.’
Transformed from being solely the left sided attacker in Klopp’s front three, Coutinho was now being asked to play as part of the midfield trio, carrying the ball from deep and possessing the passing range needed to thread through balls for the pace of Salah and Mané.
Of, course we don’t even need to mention his ability to score capably from distances closer to the halfway line than the penalty area.
With the numbers that Coutinho had posted during the first half of the season at Liverpool, he looked more than ready to fill that role for Barcelona too.
The only issue with that is that despite his attacking incisiveness, Coutinho never quite adapted tactically to the requirements of playing in midfield – hence Klopp’s refusal to play all four of his star attackers week in, week out at the start of last season.
The Brazilian isn’t ‘lazy’ or ‘incapable’ but he’s not exactly defensive in nature and there have been questions over his fitness levels and endurance on more than one occasion during his career.
In fact, an article published in April by El Pais journalist Diego Torres has suggested that this is the reason Klopp was okay with parting ways with the Brazilian and could also be the key to the playmakers’ current struggles at the Spanish club.
Torres claims that during fitness testing at Liverpool, it was discovered that “Coutinho lacked the heart and lungs to perform consistently in the great spaces of the midfield,” and was far better suited to playing in “short spaces,” due to his dynamism.
Not ideal as a replacement for Andres Iniesta, a man whose legs never seemed to stop going during his hey-day then.
This season has certainly been far less comfortable for Coutinho than his initial introduction to life at Barcelona where he looked a certain starter with Valverde seemingly unsure of how best to use the Brazilian.
The former Liverpool no.10 has been fielded as a midfielder and a left winger with equal frequency, while also having been relegated to the bench on six occasions and playing a full 90 just once in his last five fixtures without providing a goal or assist.
In fact, if you do a quick google of ‘Philippe Coutinho’ now, it makes for seriously bleak reading.
The Brazilian is not at all popular in the Spanish city and while they are just rumours, transfer stories are claiming that despite only sealing his dream move twelve months ago, the Catalan club could even look to offload him already.
While for Coutinho, the last year has been rough at best, Liverpool have coped without any issue.
While some will still pine for the Brazilian and tell you that the Reds won’t hit top gear until Coutinho is resigned, the hard facts are that the club’s form drastically picked up after the former no.10 was sold and without him, they have made it to a Champions League final, while now sitting top of the Premier League undefeated at Christmas.
The Reds have become a better team in the process of selling Coutinho, no longer relying on a piece of magic from the little magician to win games, while the funds raised have seen the likes of Alisson, Fabinho and Virgil van Dijk drastically improve Liverpool’s spine.
Goals are still in the team – especially through the mercurial Mohamed Salah – and the side is no longer completely top heavy as Klopp attempts to shoe-horn as many talented attackers into one side as he can.
Liverpool can now win games by one goal comfortable in the knowledge that they will more likely than not keep a clean sheet, while still being able to turn on the heat if they need to.
I will admit, on a human level I do feel a little bad for Coutinho. He was only following his dream and while he acted horrendously to do so, he still provided me with some of my favourite footballing memories of the last five years.
That said, on a football level, sorry to say it Phil but I don’t miss you at all.