Coutinho - Bayern Is the Best (*Only*) Solution
Updated: Dec 22, 2019
Which Direction for Philippe Coutinho ?
By Milton CEITA DA COSTA
JULY 2nd, 2019
Rewind about eighteen months, Philippe Coutinho left Liverpool for Barcelona and one of the main reported reasons was to compete for the Champions League. Since then Liverpool have been to two Champions League finals and won the most recent. Coutinho, touted as the replacement for Andrés Iniesta, although a vastly different player, has so far struggled to live up to the inflated price tag and now he finds himself the subject of transfer speculation and this time around it is to leave the Spanish powerhouse instead of joining it. In this piece, we will no so much examine the origin of the Brazil International’s struggles in Spain but instead what the future may hold for him.
Liverpool has been rumored as a potential destination for the Brazilian wizard. That however, could prove to be either a grave mistake or a masterstroke for both club and player. First, in regards to Barcelona, it seems fairly certain that Coutinho’s place is no longer protected. With rumors circulating around Antoine Griezmann and Neymar, along with the arrival of young Dutch international Frenkie de Jong, the possibility of keeping midfield dynamo Ivan Rakitić, troubled French starlet Ousmane Dembélé, combative engine Arturo Vidal and even jack-of-all-trades Kevin-Prince Boateng, plus the emergence of prodigious talents like Carles Aleñá and Riqui Puig, Coutinho would face more competition than ever before whether he were to line up as a central midfielder, a left winger or an attacking central midfielder. That’s without mentioning the price tag necessary to complete the signings of Neymar and Griezmann. Coutinho, and likely a few more players, would have to be moved on to finance such ambitious transactions.
So, let’s say the former Inter Milan man will be transferred. Where might he end up? Again, Liverpool has been mentioned, as has Manchester United (Sky Sports), Chelsea (Cadena Ser) and, of course, PSG (Sky Sports). Much was made of how the loss of Coutinho would be a devastation for Liverpool and then of how much better they were without him. Football may at times fall prey hyperbole, but both had grains of truth. Selling a star player to what is deemed a bigger club when trying to rise in stature and status can often be a mighty blow but as the world has come to recognize, Jürgen Klopp is the most important element at Liverpool and with him there, they could survive and they, of course, did that and some. Coutinho’s departure coincided with the arrival of Virgil Van Dijk, a towering centerback with a devastating man-bun. Both events contributed to a newfound solidity within Liverpool. Klopp relied more on less attack-minded midfielders such as the selfless James Milner, the ridiculously driven Jordan Henderson, and the versatile Georginio Wijnaldum. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also grew in importance until his unfortunate long-term injury in April. Liverpool became less open without the ball and developed and refined their midfield press. It also helped that they kept the scintillating attacking trident of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah. Liverpool became stronger. Then they brought in Naby Keita, Alisson and Fabinho. The team was magnificent during the 2018/2019 season from back to front. The one thing they missed, most agreed, was creativity in midfield. Their fullbacks, Andy Robertson and the precocious Trent Alexander-Arnold, provided the most assists and quite a high number of chances. The consensus issue, however, was that Wijnaldum, Henderson, Fabinho and Milner were too workmanlike in their output. A midfielder was needed, someone who could compete with Kevin De Bruyne and the Silva’s at Manchester City. Naby Keita was still settling in and the Nabil Fekir transfer fell through. Now, Coutinho has been touted for a return.
He is not, however, the same player that left. Mentally and emotionally he seems even unhappier than his final months with Liverpool when he nudged his way out (much more diplomatically than other footballers, some even mentioned in this very article). In terms of talent and skill, he would still fit but he would no longer be one of the three best players on the team and certainly not one of the most important. We witnessed that situation at Barcelona, although that was quite particular in that the team was, rightfully, built around one of the greatest footballers of all-time instead of Coutinho. There was also a not-disproven worry that Coutinho would struggle because the two tended to stray to the same areas of the field. If he were to return to Liverpool, he would find a team that has gotten over him and improved. The team wouldn’t be built around him ; that honor has been transferred to the breathtaking Mohamed Salah. Klopp’s main job would center around rebuilding his confidence, but how badly has it been bruised? The pressure would not be as high as it was when he joined Barcelona but it would still be quite elevated. The fans remember what he brought to the team despite his current struggles and some would see him as the final piece to a team trying to consistently challenge for other titles.
Nonetheless, Liverpool’s current situation is almost ideal for Coutinho. A team where he wouldn’t be the main man and so the pressure wouldn’t be as high, a squad brimming with talent and a league and club he knows well. It sounds great. The biggest concerns for him would be whether he would be given time and patience. For Liverpool, how much would they be willing to spend, financially and otherwise, on someone that wanted to leave? Someone whose camp allowed rumors to build over an apparent long-standing issue between the player and Klopp when Barcelona’s interest firmed. An issue that had not been mentioned before. Klopp is very close to his players and invests a great deal of time and emotion into them. He might welcome him back with open arms for the right price but that slightly dodgy past could make proceedings a little murkier. And furthermore, if Joe Gomez’s and Alexander-Arnold’s progress are any indication, Klopp is willing to give young Liverpool players a chance. Would that be possible with the addition of Coutinho? Keita, Henderson, Wijnaldum, a returning Oxlade-Chamberlain, Xherdan Shaqiri (who we have yet to mention!), Milner and even Mané provide direct competition to Coutinho. Most of them have improved or at least had an effective if not excellent season or two. The same cannot be said for the Brazilian. If allowed to progress and grow, it could still work out but it might not be the best option.
What else is possible?
The player has reportedly dismissed speculation linking him with Manchester United out of respect for Liverpool fans. To be brief, such a transfer could potentially be catastrophic for everyone involved (except for maybe Barcelona if they receive ample compensation). With the current volatile and troubled atmosphere of the Manchester club plus the visceral reaction from the Liverpool fans it would be one of the worst places for a player possibly struggling with confidence.
Chelsea has been mentioned and that is a slightly better option but the reaction might be too much to handle as well, especially if he is portrayed as the replacement of the magical Eden Hazard. Outside of Liverpool, the Premier League seems like a shaky destination. The league would expect much of him with little patience and time and perhaps too much pressure.
PSG is a likely option (Sky Sports), but in footballing terms, it would be disappointing. The return of Director Leonardo for them is tremendous, but Ligue 1, although their players’ ability is criminally under appreciated, doesn’t have the quality of club competition. Edison Cavani, Angel Di Maria, Neymar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi, to name a few, were challenged more in other European leagues.
One team that hasn’t been mentioned much is Bayern Munich and that might be one of the better, if not the best solution. The Bundesliga is fast-paced like the Premier League and the team is looking for a new identity. In terms of competition, it is not as exhaustive as England but Bayern was pressed to the end this season and trailed the leaders for much of the year. Frank Ribéry and Arjen Robben, two extraordinary stalwarts, have recently departed. Serge Gnabry, formerly of Arsenal, and Kingsley Coman, formerly of PSG and Juventus, are the incumbent replacements. Coutinho, who would be competing with Coman, in particular, has more experience and would offer an intriguing stylistic alternative. It would also be possible to fit all three in a lineup. Either way, he would be potentially playing with Robert Lewandoski, a world-class striker who is still quite speedy, Thomas Müller who has a PhD in finding the most dangerous and effective pockets of space and Coman and Gnabry who are young, hungry and frighteningly quick. With the field stretched, horizontally and vertically, Coutinho would benefit by having more space on the ball. He would also line up with Thiago, a top drawer midfielder and Joshua Kimmich, one of the finest players in the world. He wouldn’t be the most important player on the team, but he could grow into such with the future of the team less defined than that of Liverpool. The club is going through a retooling, not to say reconstruction, and opportunities are available. Bayern may be chasing Leroy Sané (Sky Sports), but the former Espanyol man would be an astute option, as well. James Rodriguez, although not the exact same type player, had some success with Germany’s leading club but Coutinho might be an even better fit. A concern might be Niko Kovač whose reign has been tumultuous, to say the least, with accusations of being overly defensive. He might not be long for Munich but whether he were to stay or go, Coutinho would find a great footballing home.
He was a brilliant light for Liverpool during the chase for glory with Brendan Rodgers and in its ultimate disappointment, and a heroic figure and amidst the departures of Raheem Sterling, Luis Suárez and the legendary Steven Gerrard.
It is truly said to see a player struggling so, not just because of his undoubted talent and all-around decent character, but for how he mirrors so many of us who chase a goal, despite naysayers and face adversity but in his case must do it before the whole world, in his strongest moments and his weakest.
We wish Coutinho the best.
(Oh and if he were to go to Bayern, the bonus ; they play in red, if he misses that.)
Information gathered from : Marca, Sky Sports, Kicker, Bleacher Report, A Bola, L’Equipe, ESPN.