Barcelona spent all of August briefing their press mouthpieces that Philippe Coutinho was a done deal, that negotiations were going well and he would be unveiled in 48 hours. They were lies to aid in unsettling the player and make it seem more trouble than it was worth for Liverpool to hold on to him.
Through Coutinho’s agent they convinced the player to sit out with a faked injury, fed stories about Jügren Klopp having mistreated him, and capped it off by getting him to handg in a transfer request at the most damaging time possible—immediately ahead of the Liverpool’s Champions League playoff.
When the window closed and they hadn’t signed Coutinho, Barcelona claimed—again through their press mouthpieces—that Liverpool had offered them the player on deadline day but that the English club had demanded £200M and Barcelona had refused, unwilling to be bullied into overpaying.
Despite that, and despite that Barcelona again appear to be playing the press and player agitation game to force Liverpool to sell Coutinho for less than their value of him, manager Ernesto Valvrde today insisted his club have nothing but respect—for Liverpool and the fact Coutinho is another club’s player.
“Sometimes I come in here and I learn about things that are happening,” he said at his press conference today ahead of Barcelona’s Copa del Rey match against Celta Vigo. “Whether they're true or not, I don't know. Coutinho plays for another team and he is a great player for that team.
“If he plays for Barca in the future or not, I don't know, but I like the players I have in my team so if another one comes in the future I'm sure he would have to be a very good player, too. But I’ve got nothing to say about Coutinho—we respect the fact he plays for another club.”
Except, boilerplate platitudes aside, they don’t. They don’t respect Liverpool or the fact Coutinho plays for another club. Their lies and PR spin last summer made it clear, and despite the fact Liverpool have now signalled they’re willing to deal we appear set for more of the same this month.
Liverpool have signalled that for the right fee—a gargantuan fee—and with Coutinho’s move delayed until the summer, they would be content to make a deal now. In return, from the Catalan press it’s been more talk of lowball bids, done deals, and the player never playing another game for Liverpool to force his move.
Every club tires to sign players. There’s a food chain dynamic to it and Barcelona are at the top of the transfer heap. Not everyone behaves as badly they have, though. When Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City or Chelsea or Real Madrid want a player, they generally show some willingness to meet the asking price.
There is bargaining, attempts to save a few Pounds, and players push for moves and ruffle fans’ feathers, but in general there is a recognition that when a player is under contract for another club you have to at some point meet a minimum valuation to get the deal done. Then, if you really do want the player, you meet it.
Barcelona don’t seem willing to do that. And they haven’t shown the respect Liverpool showed Southampton in their own acrimonious transfer chase—of Virgil van Dijk. There, when pushed, Liverpool accepted Southampton were unwilling to deal last summer, worked to rebuild bridges, and then paid Saints’ asking price.
When Liverpool angered Southampton with a bungled approach, they backed off. When Barcelona angered Liverpool, Barcelona doubled down and claimed—falsely—that Liverpool had offered to sell them Coutinho for £200M on deadline day in order to save face with their own fans.
When Liverpool still wanted Van Dijk, the quietly rebuilt their relationship with Southampton behind the scenes and got a deal done by allowing Southampton to name their price—a price Liverpool then paid without fuss or further press leaks, springing a truly done £75M deal on the football world.
Barcelona, as a club, used to stand for something. Now, they use their history of being more than just a club to justify the kind of bullying behaviour in the transfer market and through their briefed press that not even their rivals in Madrid are willing to stoop to. So much for respect.