Where Things Stand
Philippe Coutinho’s Barcelona transfer saga has been running since last summer and most Liverpool fans felt they had a good idea where things stood, but the situation changed quickly over the past 24 hours and a January sale now appears all but certain. Multiple reliable sources from the Liverpool end suggest the club expect to receive an offer in excess of €150M (£135M) from Barcelona shortly and that, depending on how it is structured, it may be accepted. It will, at the very least, be considered.
Moreover, it’s likely that if such a fee—one exceeding the price Barcelona paid for Ousmane Dembele last summer—is paid, Coutinho will be free to join Barcelona this month rather than in the summer, a previously reported stipulation of Liverpool being willing to negotiate a deal according to journalists with ties to the club. This represents a massive shift in Liverpool’s stance—as recently as yesterday, the belief was that the club would not consider a deal that saw Coutinho leave this month.
The club didn’t budge when Coutinho tried to force a move by sitting out over the summer, didn’t budge when there was talk of him never again playing for the club, and didn’t budge when the Catalan press came out with a constant string of stories about a deal being done last . On the surface, nothing should have been different about January. And, for the most part, it didn’t seem to be—though there was some suggestion the club would consider a delayed deal that saw Coutinho leave in the summer, when most expected him to depart regardless.
Liverpool, though, still have Coutinho under contract for four-and-a-half years—and they already called his bluff once and saw him return to playing and to top form. They also don’t need to sell to cover the outlay for Virgil van Dijk, with the defender’s recent purchase only slightly exceeding the funds made available to manager Jürgen Klopp last summer before Barcelona had even moved for Coutinho in the first place—funds Klopp never fully spent on account of failing to land Van Dijk at the time.
If Coutinho is sold—when he is sold—the expectation is that nearly the entirety of the sum gained from his sale will be put into acquiring a replacement or replacements. So what, then, has changed? It may be that the one thing that really is any different is Jürgen Klopp. Last summer, Fenway Sports Group were the ones who held the line on Coutinho—the club’s owners made holding on to him a matter of principle, feeling they needed to do so to prove their own and the club’s ambitions.
This time around, there have been reliable reports released over the last 24 hours that the manager has now been given full and final say on the matter—that if Klopp wants to keep Coutinho, for another six months or indefinitely, he will be backed to do so; if Klopp wants to sell the player as he feels he isn’t committed to his project, he will be allowed to do so. The biggest change appears to be Klopp.
What Comes Next?
Now we wait to see if Barcelona’s offer is structured acceptably—if the bulk of the fee is paid up front and any add-ons making up its balance are ones Liverpool considers achievable. That wasn’t the case last summer, when Barcelona used unlikely add-ons and deferred payment structures to construct a series of bids with impressive top-line numbers but poor real money value that Liverpool could never have accepted. There’s no guarantee the offer that arrives next will be any different.
After that, there’s the question of reinforcements. Thomas Lemar has again been linked with a Liverpool move, and while the 21-year-old isn’t as good as Coutinho is now, he’s better than Coutinho was at 21 and seems one of the players best suited to replace the departing Brazilian. Monaco, though, may not be willing to sell this month—and even if they are he’s cup tied in Europe. There have also been recent whispers of a shock move for Alexis Sanchez—but it’s hard to imagine Arsenal selling to a top four rival, which Liverpool are to them now far more than runaway title aspirants Manchester City.
Still, a signing to fill the void left by Coutinho will be essential, and Liverpool fans will be hoping that if Klopp is the one sanctioning the outgoing move he also has a target lined up—for this window and not in the summer. The money from Coutinho should also help to fund the signing of a new number six, with Emre Can likely to depart and Jordan Henderson a long-term injury concern.
Can This Be Good For Liverpool?
Maybe? If they get in at least one of either the Coutinho replacement or new number six this month it’s possible that, alongside the arrival of Van Dijk Liverpool, end the January transfer window looking better than they did heading in. If they manage neither, it will be difficult to argue this side hasn’t been weakened—and Klopp’s stubbornness, which has gotten him into trouble in the past, will be pointed to as a cause given he will be the one who chose to sanction the Coutinho sale when the club had previously shown the will to hold on to him.
And there’s always uncertainty when it comes to transfers. A Liverpool side that replaces Coutinho with Lemar and a similarly talented new signing to play the six looks on paper to be a better side—but only if the new signings work out. Plus it can’t be overstated how much more risky trying to make major moves, both incoming and outgoing, is mid-season. This is a risky, risky course to take with Liverpool thick in the fight for the top four and into the knockout rounds of the Champions League.
There is potential upside and a chance it works out to the club and Klopp’s advantage, but there is likely a bigger chance of some element of it going wrong—an added level of uncertainty that wouldn’t have existed had Liverpool stuck to their guns and held Coutinho until the summer. No matter that risk, though, it appears a deal is going to happen. Philippe Coutinho has played his final Liverpool match.