Philippe Coutinho is off to Barcelona. Or he will be if it turns out the people running Nike’s website are properly in the know about such matters. Which right now it isn’t entirely clear they are, as if it truly was a done deal it’s hard to imagine the first news of it would come by way Nike’s advertising copy going live early.
But we should probably circle around to this particular beginning. Late on Saturday evening—or early Sunday morning, depending on one’s location—the Nike site ran a bit of advertising copy, a short teaser to get shoppers to click through to buy Barcelona shirts and merchandise. And it name-dropped Philippe Coutinho.
“Philippe Coutinho is ready to light up Camp Nou,” it read, though it didn’t take long for the the text, which went live around midnight in England, to be removed. “Get your 2017/18 FC Barcelona kit with the Magician’s name on it. Act fast—free personalisation only available until 6 January.”
There are two reasonable explanations. The first is that Coutinho to Barcelona is a done deal that will very shortly be announced, Nike—as Barcelona’s kit supplier and Coutinho’s sponsor—were made aware of it, and somebody screwed up and pushed a planned update live a little too soon.
The problem with that is that for things to get to the point where Nike is cooking up advertising copy for a done deal, countless people must necessarily know about said deal. For news of it to come via a Nike snafu rather than through connected journalists seems, well, rather a bit of a stretch.
Then there’s the part where Barcelona are coasting in La Liga and Coutinho is cup tied. Signing him on the 1st of January doesn’t do a lot for them—and it leaves Liverpool with a hole in their attack and instantly undoes all the goodwill Fenway Sports Group have earned over the past six or so months.
From the Liverpool point of view, that last is important. FSG have been eager to spin the signing of Virgil van Dijk as proof of their ambition—Paul Joyce in The Times even wrote about the owners convincing Klopp they could afford the outlay. Last summer, there was Mohamed Salah and Naby Keïta.
There was the part last summer, too, where they made holding onto Coutinho key to proving their will to do whatever it takes to back Jürgen Klopp and win. To go from those victories to a quick Coutinho sale on the 1st of January would be a downright bizarre, destructive undoing of all that work.
Still, it’s possible—many will even consider it likely. The alternative is that Nike, as Barcelona’s kit supplier and Coutinho’s sponsor, have had that advertising copy kicking around since summer, someone was tasked with updating it in case a deal happened at the start of January, and it was pushed live by mistake.
That, honestly, seems most likely, while outlandish theories—a hack; a coordinated effort by Nike and Barcelona to further unsettle Coutinho—aren’t. And it shouldn’t take long before we get a better idea of what actually happened as when daylight breaks in England, Liverpool will be expected to comment on the matter.