Before deadline day, there was talk in the Catalan press that Philippe Coutinho would come out and refuse to play in the Champions League this season in one final effort to push through his transfer to Barcelona. He didn’t, and with deadline day having now passed, most felt that threat was off the table.
It is, after all, a World Cup season. And Liverpool hold the player on a five year contract. Missing a couple of games, as he did with his supposed back injury and while there is a chance to push through a transfer might be one thing. Missing games once there is no longer that chance would be another matter.
Yet today, the Catalan press are pushing that narrative again, suggesting Coutinho is angry and could refuse to participate in the Champions League for Liverpool in order not to end up cup tied so that, just maybe, he could get his move to Barcelona come the re-opening of the transfer window in January.
It’s a dangerous proposition given Coutinho has no leverage in this case—Liverpool have the player on a five year contract and no need to generate money by selling him and so could simply sit him in the stands and fine him until he eventually changes his mind, even if it takes until he turns 30 years old.
They probably wouldn’t actually do that, of course. As threats go, “let him go rot in the reserves” is one fans go in for more than clubs. There are also legal issues if the club were the ones to proactively look to make it impossible for a player they have signalled they value to play football—to potentially end his career.
That makes it different from a situation like that of Mamadou Sakho’s, where the club actively sought the player’s exit after signalling he had no place at the club. With Coutinho, though, their refusal to engage with Barcelona is evidence of his value to Liverpool. They can’t just then not play him out of spite.
To do so would be to risk having FIFA annul his contract, allowing him to walk on a free. But if Coutinho is the one who refuses to take part then the club can certainly dock his wages, isolate him from the squad, and let him stew for as long as he pleases—to the summer of 2022 if that’s what it takes.
If Coutinho actually tries such a stunt, it would be interesting to see how the club would react—but after the line they held over the summer, one imagines it not being a protest that would easily get the player what he wants. And of course it could just be another lie from Barcelona or the Catalan press.
The Catalan club and their press mouthpieces have hardly seemed to go a day without adding a new lie to the pile—unveilings and agreed deals and €200M asking prices—and one more now would hardly be a surprise. Either way, for Liverpool it’s all just a little tiring rather than genuinely concerning.
Mostly because while Liverpool would certainly stand to lose if Coutinho pulled such a stunt, the player could stand to potentially lose far more—he could stand to lose his career if Liverpool continue playing hardball as they proved once again they’re more than willing to do over the past summer.