The strict discipline of training one's body to perform outside of previously set parameters is a difficult one to maintain. It requires a spartan resolve. As a louche and morally dubious student, your scribbler was impressively dedicated to the relentless and frankly irresponsible moulding of his liver into a pickled but functional filter for the increasingly large daily alcohol intake that defined those hazy days.
Fast forward two decades and the same liver is smugly untroubled and renewed, rinsed, as it is, by a rigid daily water intake. However, the body surrounding it, louche and morally dubious as ever, is still being tormented by a systematic and punctilious regimen. A model of modern narcissism, this Irishman is never happy unless he has assuaged his 21st century self-loathing and residual Catholic guilt with an unadvisably strenuous amount of nightly cardiovascular exercise.
There is, however, an altogether higher plane of self-discipline to which humanity can aspire. When a footballer has made it to the top of the professional game and is widely acknowledged as a fine exponent of his chosen sport, it must be tempting, given the attendant and obscene material wealth, to simply maintain. Indeed, the game is littered with players who have done just that, their initial ambition and drive for self-improvement having been dulled by the attainment of worldly comfort and widespread praise.
In others, the very best as a general rule, the fervency of that ambition never diminishes, the ardour to improve never wanes. One such devotee of self-amelioration is Liverpool's outrageously talented number 10, Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian attacker has been in arguably the form of his life as he passes through the two year marker on his Anfield career. A player of remarkable vision and passing ability, the impish forward has added a tremendous capacity for ball-carrying and penetration to the physical strength he seemed to develop over the course of the last campaign.
Coutinho is a hearteningly humble character and, at just 22, possesses a calm maturity on the pitch and the moral courage to constantly demand the ball and attempt to influence the play. Simply put, as Steven Gerrard edges towards the end of his Liverpool career, Coutinho is one of a handful of emergent and youthful leaders on the pitch. It is no surprise, then, to hear that the man himself has assumed a new responsibility within the team and has the humility to understand that he can still better his impressive contributions.
"There are always so many things to improve," insists the once curly-topped schemer. "I've been working on assisting my teammates even further and improving my goal tally as I understand this as being part of my role. I expect to do better on this. In training, I've been working with our coaches on specific tasks to better my final touch. Whenever possible, I have post-training sessions to work on improving my shooting accuracy.
"I wouldn’t say I've been 'studying.' I like watching football games as much as everyone else does. I’ve always enjoyed seeing Ronaldinho play and I watch videos of him to take as an inspiration. I sometimes also watch videos of myself to see what I have done well and what I could have done better."
Brendan Rodgers, never a man to use a solitary epithet when there are a dozen burning in his enthusiastic mind, has previously referred to Coutinho as the "brains of the team" and "a class act." Even in the permanently squabbling and riven Liverpool fan base, there would be only a handful of wilfully curmudgeonly sorts who who disagree with those sentiments. Even if they did quibble with the manager's assessment, they can hardly take issue with the determination and positivity of the player's own words.
"I'm feeling very happy because the team have been playing well again," said Coutinho. "This is so important as everyone does better individually when we are doing well as a team. We're constantly looking to improve and, as I said, I for one know I have to improve a few things. I want to be a player who will score goals more often. We're in a good shape at the moment and we'll have a few opportunities to test that in all games and competitions we have ahead of us."
This young man, with his unassuming attitude and devotion to "post-training sessions" is a beacon for those of us who deceive ourselves that we possess a modicum of discipline and drive. A professional of singular focus, he is a credit to himself and his club. Indeed, should he continue his relentless progression in a red shirt, Philippe Coutinho has a real chance of cementing his name, alongside those of other truly exceptional talents, in the lore of Liverpool Football Club. In the interim, we shall all enjoy the benefits of his good practice as he tears into opposition defences with the kind of gleeful abandon that some of us once displayed in the imbibing of cheap wine.