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Coutinho to Barcelona Pt. XIV: The Swappening

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It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that the rumormongers are at it again.

FC Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

The song remains the same. Every time Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho departs for international duty, he is inevitably snapped sharing a laugh or two with his compatriot and friend Neymar. Neymar, almost equally inevitably, says a few words about how nice it would be to play alongside Coutinho at Barcelona. The masters of the obvious glance at Andrés Iniesta, who is - shockingly -not getting any younger, and speculate whether the Liverpool midfielder is the heir apparent to Iniesta at the Camp Nou.

It’s a completely plausible interest, of course, but these reports tend to overstate the degree of Barcelona’s certainty as to Coutinho being The One, just as much as they tend to understate Liverpool’s interest in retaining the Brazilian’s services. According to reports in Spanish outlets that have since found their way into the English press, the latest variation on this recurring theme involves that rarest of creatures (almost as rare as a unicorn, one might say) in European football - a player swap.

The makeweight in question happens to be named Ivan Rakitić, a player who has accomplished a fair bit more than Coutinho during his time at Barcelona, but who is also perhaps on the wrong end of his twenties (it’s an unsentimental business, football). For some time, Rakitić has been a crucial element in Barcelona’s success, but this past season has seen a blend of exhaustion and indifferent form lead to significantly reduced minutes for the Croatian midfielder.

Even setting aside the question of whether Rakitić is truly slated for departure, there are a number of considerations that might torpedo any such deal. It’s safe to say that Liverpool’s ability to qualify for next seasons’ Champions League competition will be a key factor in whether Coutinho - who just signed a new contract running through 2022 - even thinks about leaving. An additional complication is the matter of Barcelona’s manager: Luis Enrique has stated that he will not remain in the job past the end of this season, so it’s not clear whether Coutinho is even wanted by whoever takes over the reins.

Despite struggling with form and injuries this season, Coutinho has retained a not-insignificant amount of goodwill with supporters, and still tantalizes with flashes of what he can do when he’s at his best. If Liverpool want to keep him - and they almost certainly do - they can take a big step towards that goal by hanging on to that top four spot.