Philippe Coutinho skilfully Garrinchas away from the subject; one that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is neither “sure nor unsure” about, which also had the club’s CEO Peter Moore citing the unavailability of “a crystal ball” to forecast what will happen next.
But as December grows older and the January transfer window creeps closer, the queries over the Brazil international’s future will only fatten as Barcelona continue to feed their objective of unveiling him at Camp Nou.
The Reds boss is disinclined to have this topic dwarf all other talking points, as was the case in the summer, but there are valid questions to be asked and possibly uncomfortable answers to digest.
Why, having been so resolute in their not-for-sale stance in the off-season, would Liverpool be more open to Coutinho’s departure to Barca midway through the campaign?
And why would the 25-year-old, posting elite numbers and elevating his status further, cede Champions League football with a last-16 tie against Porto to contest and undertake the risk of moving in the winter preceding the World Cup?
The answer to the first largely circles around time. Liverpool were blindsided by Barca’s approach and the playmaker’s desire to leave in July, after his fresh five-year commitment at the turn of the year sans a release clause, and while the pre-season conditioning was in proper swing.
The Merseysiders were neither prepared for, nor willing to lose a player so core to their planning. “The only thing I can say about this is that in life everything is about timing – whichever club asks early enough,” Klopp explained in the summer.
“It’s like how we do it. If we ask early enough, we try to do it. If you ask early enough, you can either switch the plan or whatever.
“But you cannot come up, close to the start of the season and things like this. It’s like I said: the club is bigger than anybody. That is the most important thing. It’s about doing it in the right moment. It’s how we do it when we want to bring players in.
“It is about timing. That is how I understand it. And that is all I have to say. Maybe everybody has a price – in the right moment. In the wrong moment? No price.”
Ahead of the start of the season, while experiencing difficulties in landing two priority targets in Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keita — the latter who will join on July 1 — as well as needing Mohamed Salah and the other new acquisitions to settle, letting Coutinho leave would’ve been negligent.
Why would Liverpool bow to Barca and help them rally after Neymar’s world-record switch to Paris Saint-Germain? Why would they sacrifice their own stratagem for the season and put themselves in the same situation as the Catalan side — wading through a ballooning market to replace an adroit Brazilian with loadsa money and loadsa clubs alert to the chance of profitting from this position of powerlessness?
It was, in all aspects, not the right moment. Fast forward, however, and there will have been 166 days between the first of three bids from La Liga’s leaders for Coutinho and the opening of the winter window.
Liverpool know what Barca want, what the player desires, and this wisdom will have permeated their recruitment designs for five months. They have had the valuable element of time.
Of course, this does not make replacing someone of his quality and capabilities easy, but it renders the process easier. It offers solid, constant thinking as opposed to buying out of pressure and panic, the opportunity to lay groundwork, as well as the ability to assess a potential sale as part of a full picture rather than an isolated decision.
Ideally and undoubtedly, Liverpool want to keep their premier players. They also exist in reality, and if Barca’s New Year’s resolution is to give up ridiculous add-ons to markedly improve their base offers — the highest of which was £82 million — with Coutinho again emphatically stating his desire to exit, there will be more to discuss than there was prior to 2017-18.
The Catalans will certainly not be encouraged, and there will be the hope that the Rio-born virtuoso wants to continue being on the supply chain for Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino until the end of the campaign.
To answer why he would be open to not being involved again in the Champions League this season in order to move to Barca is to understand the sacrifices he has already made to date.
Coutinho left Brazil at 18 to move to Inter, with his parents and wife Aine giving up everything to join him on an unpredictable journey. “They moved with me to help make the settling easier,” he told this writer in an exclusive for CNN Sport. “But it was hard for them. As they were old, it was difficult for them to learn the language or adapt to a new culture and ways of doing things like I could.
“Aine had to change her entire routine, my dad had to quit his job which was painful because he loves to be busy. My parents eventually moved back to Brazil, so since then it has been me and my wife, although they are always involved.”
By the age of 20, Coutinho had kitted up in four different countries across two continents, in order to advance in his career. He may feel that everything he has had to surrender or overcome since his teens to now is much more significant than continued participation in the showpiece to take another step forward.
January will mark five years at Anfield for Liverpool’s two-time Player of the Season, in which he has developed and delivered.
As per Klopp, Coutinho, and Moore, no-one definitively knows what the window holds yet, but a depreciation of the club’s hardline stance if the moment and price is right would not be a huge surprise.
Time has made it so.