The Brazilian left Anfield in January 2018 in a potential £142 million deal but he has largely struggled to justify that huge fee
Philippe Coutinho took off in a private jet, heading for the very top – or so he thought.

The Brazilian wrangled with Liverpool for a move to Barcelona and eventually his dream came true.

Laughing with his wife, daughter and parents by his side as he made good his Anfield escape, Coutinho landed in the Catalan capital in January 2018 as the most expensive signing in the club's history, at €160 million (£142m/€178m), including bonuses.

It is a price tag which has pulled him down, or, rather, generated immense expectation, and that still sits heavily on his shoulders.

Even as he scored a trademark golazo against Manchester United, a curling effort which screamed past David de Gea and nestled into the top corner, the darkness would not fully dissipate.

Coutinho stuck his fingers in his ears, issuing a clear message to his critics, both in the media tribune and the stacked stands of Camp Nou. “A tomar por culo,” he said softly, at least according to the lip readers - “F*** off.”

Next time he appeared at the stadium, against Real Sociedad on April 20, he was whistled by his own fans. It clouded over what has been a small uptick in form recently.

Philippe Coutinho Barcelona GFX

The midfielder finds himself at a crossroads as his past mixes with his present as Liverpool arrive in Catalonia for a Champions League semi-final first leg, looking to derail Barcelona’s bid for the treble.

At the time loath to let him go, Liverpool could not have envisaged how Coutinho’s form and reputation would crumble so drastically.

The Reds have thrived without him, with the midfield’s power offset by the speed and skill of their attacking line, burying the memories of his departure deep in the dirt.

When Coutinho left, Liverpool fans felt betrayed. Now they just feel pity.

It should have been so sweet.


Coutinho’s friend at Liverpool and new team-mate at Barcelona, Luis Suarez, had already found him a house in picturesque Castelldefels, a few miles down the coast from Barcelona.

They, and Lionel Messi, were to be neighbours.

After Neymar left and with Ousmane Dembele then failing to integrate with the squad or perform on the pitch, Coutinho’s arrival was heralded as a move that would bring the X-factor back to Barcelona and create a new South American creative trident.

But the playmaker's dream move soon became a nightmare. So why has Coutinho struggled?

“There are three reasons,” Albert Masnou, sub-director of Barcelona-based newspaper Diario Sport tells Goal.

“One is tactical. In the first year, he played in midfield where he was supposed to replace Andres Iniesta. Now he’s playing as a forward, which isn’t his position, as he can’t beat people one-on-one.

"Barca aren’t taking advantage of his potential.”

Barcelona legend Iniesta departed in the summer after Coutinho joined and the idea was for the Brazilian to slot neatly into his role. But having proven weak and inconsistent in midfield, he has been shunted out to the left wing by coach Ernesto Valverde.

That, in theory, saw him move closer on the pitch to Suarez and Messi but he could not be further away from that double-act in terms of quality and impact.

Former sporting director Robert Fernandez insists to this day that Coutinho was signed to play in central midfield but Valverde, who has signed on for another year at Barcelona, seems insistent that he cannot play there.

Remarkably, the player himself had not discussed the specifics of his position with Barcelona before joining.

“For a lot of players, it’s not easy to play alongside Messi,” continues Masnou. “That’s not to blame Messi for anything, not at all, simply that with the way that Barcelona are organised, it all revolves around him.

“To learn to be someone who serves him, for a player used to deciding important games, to live depending on Leo’s movements – it’s not easy to adapt.”

That much was seen on Saturday as Barcelona won the title with a 1-0 win over Levante. With Messi on the bench, Coutinho looked freer on the pitch, creating chances and becoming more involved in the play.

With less pressure and more space, the Brazilian had his best game in months – even if he was still replaced at half-time by the No.10.

For long periods this season, Coutinho has made Valverde’s team-sheet solely because of injury problems Dembele has been suffering from – and inevitable political pressure to play the record signing.

However, when the Frenchman is fit and firing, he is a far more dynamic and watchable presence on the left.

“One other thing that’s weighed him down is this constant comparison with Dembele,” adds Masnou.

“They are two players who are totally different and cannot be compared. But playing in the same position, it’s normal that people do.

"One has one-on-one ability, speed, can unbalance defences; Coutinho’s game is very different.”

It took the best part of a year for Coutinho to be hit by the full wave of criticism, with Dembele’s unprofessionalism and erratic displays drawing most of the flak from fans and media.

Coutinho, by contrast, was a model professional, the courteous 'goody two-shoes' who nobody would say a bad word about.

Hitting 10 goals in his first 22 appearances was a more than respectable start, but instead of using it as a springboard, Coutinho dropped off the deep end and speculation over a transfer has been rife in 2019.

Barcelona have been criticised in the past for not making good money when it comes to selling players and, despite his recent improvements, that could encourage them to ditch Coutinho.

A third campaign struggling would take another chunk off his valuation and, turning 27 in June, right now the midfielder is technically hitting his peak – despite what his performances say.

The midfield is already crowded, with Sergio Busquets immovable, Ivan Rakitic essential and Arthur battling Arturo Vidal for the other spot.

Frenkie de Jong will join in the summer from Ajax and although long-term he is being touted for the Busquets role, in the short-term he will feature further forward. Messi is going nowhere either.
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