Shortly after my twenty first birthday, I celebrated the milestone with some co-workers from the factory in which I was ensnared for the summer. A clichéd penniless literature student, I was gamely enduring the mind-numbing mundanity of the assembly line so that I might keep myself in tuna and lodgings for the college year to come. You know that uniquely moulded polystyrene stuff that you claw at and tear into pieces whilst endeavouring to get at your new purchase? Yes, we made that, dear reader, and our job satisfaction was exactly as high as you might imagine.
Anyway, in the finest liquor-soaked Irish tradition, we all went out and partook of a few sherbets to mark my transition into actual adulthood. At some point in the ensuing drunken morass, your scribbler wandered away from the house party of bacchanalian revellers and found a nice cozy tree to have a little sit-down under. It seemed an eminently logical thing to do at the time. When I awoke, however, I had a coating of frosty dew on me and was drawing baleful stares from early-rising church-goers bundling their curious kids into the car and exhorting them to not look at 'the silly man.' Yes indeed, I had life down at twenty one.
At only that same age, it's fair to say that Philippe Coutinho is ahead of virtually any curve one cares to speak of. Not for him, the idiotic tomfoolery of your once-wayward scribbler. An instant success at Anfield upon his arrival in January, the young Brazilian had already excelled in La Liga with Espanyol and in both Serie A and the Champions League with the mighty Internazionale. Indeed, whilst still a teenager, he'd represented Brazil at U17, U20 and senior level and impressed managers such as Mauricio Pochettino, Rafael Benitez and his current gaffer, Brendan Rodgers.
Benitez was happy to hand Coutinho important first team starts ahead of far more stellar and established names, Rodgers has had his judgement vindicated by the young man's excellence in red and Pochettino once went so far as to say that Liverpool's number ten "can become like Messi or Ronaldo." The player himself is flattered but sensible enough to immediately suggest with a smile that the young Argentinian manager's assessment is probably "a bit of a long shot" and he prefers to focus on attaining as much as possible with Liverpool first.
"My priority is to win trophies and be part of Liverpool's history," Coutinho observed. "Then I will be happy if people say I've been a great player, but there is a lot of work to do before that. We all need to win trophies here before we can start talking about how good we are as players."
Talent, tonsorial magnificence and modesty? No wonder I recently had to hear about the "inappropriate feelings" somebody had for the young Brazilian forward, who, despite his pop star looks and youth, is like a throwback to the footballers of old, being as he is, happily married and a picture of domestic stability. We are unlikely to hear of Coutinho abandoning his expensive car in a swamp or stumbling out of a nightclub. This is a focused young man with an eye on achieving as much as possible, as soon as possible.
It will have rankled with him to be kicking his heels at Melwood this past week when Brazil's senior squad were in Canada. He is realistic enough to know that his country is not exactly bereft of attacking options but he still retains a burning passion to represent his country this summer as it plays host to the greatest football show on Earth.
This is a young man who grew up in the Rocha district of Rio de Janeiro, constantly trying to compete with older brothers in a football crazy family, with the totemic structure of the Maracana stadium ominousy looming in the background. Coutinho, who made his breakthrough with his childhood team, Vasco Da Gama, claims that he will travel to support his country in the World Cup as a fan if he has not made the Selecao.
"The English season will be over," says the talented attacker. "I am a Brazilian, who loves my country, so of course I will be following and supporting the side as much as any fan. I still think there is plenty of time for me to try and be part of the team. It's always going to be difficult because there are lots of players who play in my position who have been given there chance and are playing very well, but there is a lot of football to be played before the World Cup, so you just have to try to impress for your club until then. My main focus has to be on Liverpool and then see if anything develops. I have no idea if anyone is watching me from the Brazil national team but the best way to have a chance is to do well for Liverpool."
Here at TLO Towers, it is Coutinho's work for Liverpool that is our only real concern and it is heartening to hear that he understands the primacy of his club. Acres of print and vast swathes of cyberspace have been filled with debate about where Coutinho might be best 'deployed' (people love that word) and we have indulged in that discussion here. The player himself seems to be in little doubt and his manager seems to concur, for when he has a full squad to choose from, the Brazilian is afforded a freer role in the attack, coming from the left or operating more centrally.
"What I would say is this," he begins. "The manager gives me complete freedom to play to link the play between midfield and the striker. He does not limit me to a particular area of the field or a position, his instruction to me is to move around and work in different positions that are best for the team. My focus in the training sessions is always about movement to create openings and opportunities. When you don't have the ball, you still need the discipline to know where you should be, who you should be marking, but when we have the ball it is important to be able to move around. That only comes with practice and I'm pleased that people like my style of football."
Ah yes, Philippe, like it we do. What is most gratifying is that aside from his obvious technical proficiency, Coutinho's words emphasise two other traits which the manager has clearly identified. Rodgers trusts the young Brazilian to be the conductor of the attack. This indicates he is possessed of what Rafael Benitez calls game intelligence; and the player's reference to positional awareness when not in possession reminds us of another, unexpected bonus of the Coutinho make-up -- his tenacity. Slight he may be, but Coutinho is not afraid of a tackle and harries with the best of them.
The last derby was one of this wonderful footballer's least impressive matches in red. Let us hope that this weekend sees him display the full extent of his bountiful talent in a comprehensive routing of the bluenoses. Of course, we'd also settle for a sub-par display with him scuffing the solitary goal of the match in off Tim Howard's backside. It's the derby. A win's a win, but with Philippe Coutinho in the line-up, the chances of the three points going to Liverpool are considerably increased.