Liverpool have left Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge behind as they travel to Germany for Tuesday’s Champions League qualifying match. Last Thursday, when it was announced that along with Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne they would miss the season opener, the hope was both would be ready to face Hoffenheim.
For Sturridge, that hasn’t happened, and the striker remains absent. He begins the season sidelined despite hopes this would be the year he finally put his troublesome injury record behind well and truly him. For Coutinho, of course, things have rather changed since last Thursday, when he was said to be on the verge of a return.
Twenty-four hours after it was reported he would miss the season opener, Coutinho handed in a transfer request, timed to do the most damage possible to Liverpool’s season preparations, and went to the press to claim that he had been poorly treated by manager Jürgen Klopp and had grown frustrated by his role at Liverpool.
While Coutinho was sending in the transfer request, a family member or representative was telling Sky Sports that the player felt “aggrieved” by how he had been treated by the Liverpool manager and was unhappy with the role Klopp wanted the young attacker to play. Along with the timing of it, it was a move meant to cause damage.
Coutinho spent the past 12 months fighting with his teammates to get into the Champions League. The timing and method of his transfer request made that harder; made it more difficult for those players as they prepare for a Champions League playoff that will determine now if they actually get the chance to do that this season.
Now, his back injury—which, even if it is legitimate, is difficult to take entirely at face value given its timing and his willingness to hand in a transfer request timed to do maximum damage to the club—will see him miss out on a Champions League qualifier just as Michael Owen did in in 2004 as he forced his way to Real Madrid.
Even if Champions League rules have changed such that appearing in a qualifier doesn’t cup tie a player, it’s difficult to see Coutinho missing a game that could make or break the club’s season and not at least think that it might be part of his attempts to force a split from the club given the method and timing of his transfer request.