Once the shocking reports emerged that Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho had relayed a transfer request to his employers on the eve of a new Premier League season, there were really only two key questions in this protracted and increasingly absurd saga. Would Fenway Sports Group get comfortable with taking Barcelona’s cash, and if not (as was always likely the case), how would Coutinho be welcomed back into the squad and at Anfield when the time came?
That latter question was partially answered yesterday when Coutinho was called upon to participate in front of the Reds’ supporters for a frustrating affair against Burnley. It was a far from hostile reception - perhaps more than a few in the crowd had sensed that some quality was needed given the absence of several other key players - and an important first step in getting the midfielder focused back on the business on the pitch rather than on business at the Camp Nou.
Since that purported transfer request was communicated to Liverpool, Coutinho has said precious little in public about Barcelona’s interest and his relationship with his current club, but finally broke his silence yesterday. Speaking to ESPN Brasil, Coutinho opened up by saying that “the whole world knows what happened,” admitting that he was interested in moving to Barcelona - hardly a surprise - but also reaffirmed his commitment to Liverpool and to the work ahead.
“I received a job offer, like in life whatever work you do,” said Coutinho. “Sometimes you're interested and sometimes you're not. In this case, like you all know, I was interested. My family too.”
“It's a great honor to receive an offer for a great club like that,” added the midfielder. “But it's also a great honor to be here. Liverpool is a great club. I'm here and I'm going to give it my best as always.”
On the subject of whether or not the drama (including presumably that transfer request) might complicate his role and stature at the club, with his colleagues, and with the supporters, Coutinho took the line that nothing had changed.
“I earned my place during the last four, five years and I've never had a problem with anyone here,” he insisted. “I've always respected the support very much of the groups. The players, the directors, the technical staff. And that hasn't changed at all. Like I said, whatever job offers you get, some interest you and others don't.”
“I have to work. I'm focused on working hard and to have a good year if possible. In the end, I have to help my team."
As was the case with everything else associated with this saga, there is almost certainly more than meets the eye with Coutinho’s statements, but it was something that the player and the club needed to be said. Barcelona’s interest is clearly on hold for the duration of the 2017-18 season, and Liverpool clearly need Coutinho to be back at his best quickly. The sooner he can focus on that task the better.