John Aldridge: Coutinho will be off if Barcelona make a move for him
PHILIPPE Coutinho IS good enough to play for Barcelona – and there will be nothing Liverpool can do to keep their Brazilian ace if the Spanish giants come calling.
Coutinho has been linked with a move to Catalonia repeatedly in the last few weeks and it wouldn’t surprise me if they are eyeing up a player who has added consistency to his promise in recent weeks.
We have always known that this 24-year-old has the potential to be a world-class talent, but he did not deliver the match-winning performances often enough to confirm he was the real deal until Jurgen Klopp became Liverpool boss.
The best players are at the top of their game every week, but Coutinho was a player who could turn it on occasionally and he needed to mature to realise his potential.
He went off on a stretcher on Saturday and all fans will hope is it’s not a serious knock as now we are seeing a little star who can turn a game on his own and he did that from the first match of this season at Arsenal, when his dazzling display was too much for the opposition to handle.
Liverpool needed to make a statement of intent at Emirates Stadium after falling a goal behind in the first half and with Coutinho taking centre-stage, that is just what they did.
Less than 20 minutes after the restart, they had scored four goals and Coutinho had two of them in a burst of brilliance that blew Arsenal away.
Those kind of performances were always likely to catch the eye of the biggest teams in the world and when Coutinho scored another brilliant goal for Brazil against Argentina a couple of weeks back, it’s no surprise to see his reputation exploding.
This is a player on the way up and with Andres Iniesta not getting any younger, Barcelona will be looking for playmakers who could slot into his role at some point over the next couple of years.
While I have great passion for Liverpool and would never look to leave that club, Coutinho will not have the same level of loyalty and he’ll be off if Barcelona make a move for him.
South American players will always feel at home in Spain as the culture, climate and style of football is what they are used to and it wouldn’t surprise me if playing for Barcelona is a dream for Coutinho.
Liverpool have a fine squad, a wonderful manager and they are playing some brilliant football, but that doesn’t count for much if one of the world’s super-clubs comes knocking.
The club’s American owners have a wage structure in place at Liverpool that ensures they work to a tight budget and while the wages on offer to the top players at Anfield are crazy to the working man on the street, they don’t compare to what others clubs can pay.
Look at the Raheem Sterling situation last year, when it was clear that his agent had got in his player’s ear about the kind of cash that was on offer at Manchester City and he made sure the deal went through.
We are seeing a similar situation now with Daniel Sturridge, who is not in Klopp’s first choice team and stories are appearing saying he might want out.
The Sturridge story is very different to Coutinho in my eyes because Daniel is already on a reported £150,000-a-week contract and his job should be to get back into the team and start scoring goals.
If he does that, then his annoyance at being left on the bench will evaporate and his agent will probably stop leaking stories trying to agitate for a move.
These agents are very happy to get their cut when they negotiate a new contact for their players and then they wait a few months before working out a way to get more money out of the game by causing enough trouble to pave the way for a transfer.
It’s one of the ugly sideshows of the modern game, but I don’t see the speculation surrounding Coutinho in the same light.
A Barcelona team featuring Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, backed up by the brilliance of Coutinho, would be quite a prospect.
Yet this is not an issue Liverpool will need to consider for some time because, injury permitting, Coutinho’s focus for the next few months will be on playing a part in
Liverpool’s challenge in three competitions.
The third of those in terms of priorities is back on the agenda next Tuesday as Leeds United make a welcome return to Anfield for what should be an exciting EFL Cup quarter-final.
Liverpool and Leeds were the big hitters in English football when I was growing up and aside from the great Liverpool sides of the 60s and 70s, Don Revie’s great Leeds team is the only other one that I could name man-for-man.
It has been sad to see the demise of Leeds in the last few years, but bad management on and off the field has contributed to their slide. They have been out of the Premier League for a few years now and younger supporters will soon forget what a giant Leeds have been down the years.
I’m sure they will be putting out a full strength team against Liverpool and Reds manager Klopp needs to be careful when he rests star names as too many changes could put a dent in their ambitions to win the competition.
My best days as a player were when my team won trophies and that is often forgotten in an era when a top four finish and qualification for the Champions League is considered to be the biggest prize on offer.
So while I expect Klopp to shake up his team against Leeds, I hope he picks a side strong enough to secure a semi-final spot as this is a competition Liverpool should be determined to win this season.
The side that takes on Leeds might not include Coutinho either through injury or Klopp giving a few of his younger players a run-out, but my hope would be that we see this brilliant playmaker in a red Liverpool shirt for many years to come.
The trouble is, when Barcelona or Real Madrid target one of your star players, they tend to get their man.