On January 6 2018, Barcelona broke their previous transfer record by splashing out an eye-watering £106m to sign Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool.
In doing so, the Blaugrana became only the second side in world football to pay over £100m on a single signing after Paris Saint-Germain previously secured monumental deals for superstar duo Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
Coutinho’s price tag, of course, meant that he arrived at the Nou Camp with plenty to prove – even if he had previously earned plenty of plaudits during his five-year stay at former side ?Liverpool.
Unfortunately for the Brazilian magician, his short stay at ?Barcelona has been nothing short of disastrous and it looks set to come to a premature end unless something miraculous happens this summer.
So where exactly did it all go wrong for Coutinho at Barcelona? How did a player who had previously garnered a reputation as one of the world’s most creative midfielders become a shadow of his former self?
Losing 4-0 at Anfield sure was bad for Barcelona, but Liverpool selling Coutinho for 160m was a lot worse.
— Rafael Hernández (@RafaelH117) May 25, 2019
Coutinho’s woes seem to stem from the fact that he was initially signed as a long-term replacement for a man who couldn’t possibly be replaced – Andres Iniesta.
It goes without saying that losing Iniesta was a huge blow in itself, but Coutinho was never going to be the right man to fill his boots. Coutinho has never been, or is unlikely to ever be, a complete midfielder, in any sense of the word.
To his credit, Ernesto Valverde has clearly recognised that Coutinho isn’t suited to playing in a midfield trio, but the coach still hasn’t been able to get the best out the Brazilian to the same extent that Jurgen Klopp was able to at Liverpool.
Coutinho was provided with much more freedom during his time with the Reds, either being encouraged to cut in from the left hand side to provide an extra dimension to the Reds’ attack or to operate as a floating midfielder with nothing but offensive responsibilities to worry about.
At Barcelona, Coutinho has been shunted out the to the left flank, but he’s now unable to cut inside and effect games in the same manner as he did at Liverpool for fear of treading on Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez’s toes. Utilising him as a traditional winger simply doesn’t work.
Statistically, Coutinho’s return hasn’t been disastrous, but it has fallen far short of what is expected of a player who was signed for over £100m. In his first full season at Barcelona, Coutinho managed to register 11 goals and five assists in all competitions.
Of course, no one expected him to be prolific in the final third – especially with the likes of Messi and Suarez on the scene – but the numbers haven’t been good enough for the Blaugrana.
His poor form has seen him fall out of favour with the Barcelona faithful and the Brazilian hasn’t exactly been doing his best to repair the fractious relationship between both parties.
His reaction to the goal? Holding his hands to his ears while appearing to directly challenge the crowd. A move that was only ever going to end badly.
Coutinho’s future is unsurprisingly uncertain, as has been widely reported, but there is every chance he could be handed a lifeline this summer, depending on what happens behind the scenes at Barcelona.
Ernesto Valverde’s future at the club remains in doubt and, after the Blaugrana slipped to defeat in the Copa del Rey final against Valencia on Saturday evening, the club’s hierarchy will have a big decision to make this summer.
If a new manager does arrive at the Nou Camp, then they are going to have a huge decision on their hands. Do they give Coutinho another shot at proving himself or do they make the decision to sell the club’s record signing after just a year and a half?
If they choose the latter option then another issue arises – who is going to be willing to fork out for a flaky midfielder whose form in no way reflects his valuation?
Wherever Coutinho ends up playing his football next season, he’ll be the first to admit that he has a lot of work to do to rejuvenate his currently faltering career.