Liverpool were meant to be preparing for their Champions League playoff tie against Hoffenheim today, and that’s what they might well be doing behind closed doors. When the team, the players, and the manager speak in public, though, Hoffenheim isn’t the question on everybody’s lips.
Philippe Coutinho is. It’s inevitable, given the Brazilian midfielder timed his transfer request to do the most damage possible, to cause the most chaos at the club, in order to try to force his move to Barcelona. Now, instead of Hoffenheim, the focus is on the club’s want-away star.
“I prefer not to think of this,” was teammate and countryman Roberto Firmino’s take when asked about the Coutinho to Barcelona talk that’s dominated things for Liverpool as they attempt to kick off the 2017-18 season. “It would be awful. He’s a great player but also a great friend to me.”
The players will certainly understand Coutinho’s desire to move to one of the biggest clubs in the world. At the same time, though, Coutinho’s attempts to depart—and in particular the timing and method of them—risk seeing them miss out on playing in the Champions League this season.
The entire team fought to finish fourth last season and earn a chance at playing in the Champions League, but that chance only becomes reality if they can beat Hoffenheim over two legs, and the distraction of Coutinho’s transfer request and his absence from the team hurts those chances.
Still, for Firmino and the rest of the squad, the focus remains on Liverpool, on football, and on their next opponent. Or at least that’s what they will tell everybody once they’re done answering the inevitable questions about Philippe Coutinho, Barcelona, and transfer requests.
“It’s normal that great teams are interested in his football, but my concentration is now on the team,” Firmino added. “My objective is to win cups with Liverpool so I can enter the history of this club. And this season is a special season because it is World Cup season.
“From childhood, I had the dream to play in the World Cup. To be selected to the World Cup, I need to have my best season with Liverpool.”