DESPITE POOR FORM COUTINHO OFFERS REDS BOOST BY SIGNING NEW CONTRACT
Can they land the big names? Every summer the question is asked by Liverpool supporters, desperate to see ‘A’-list talent arrive on Merseyside.
More often than not, though, the answer in recent years has been ‘no’. Liverpool are not a club, at this moment in time, who are in a position to play Fantasy Football and pick off those stars whose names roll off the tongue.
The reasons are clear. Liverpool, for starters, have been out of the Champions League for all bar one of the last seven years.
They have a manager who has strong principles on money and will never pay over the odds and, finally, the location of the city poses an issue. London is the lure to foreign players.
Consider those reasons, then, and you will understand why, in recent times, the pursuit of Henrik Mkhitaryan, Mario Gotze, Julian Draxler, Willian and Alexis Sanchez all failed to end with them standing in front of the Kop, posing for pictures with a red-and-white scarf above their head.
An equally pertinent question, however, has been can they hold on to their big names? Since 2009, every summer fans have been faced with that quandary as those players who made the Kop dare to dream have ultimately gone elsewhere.
Think about it. Xabi Alonso went to Real Madrid in 2009, Javier Mascherano headed to Barcelona 12 months later. He was followed not long after by Fernando Torres (Chelsea, January 2011) before Luis Suarez (Barcelona, 2014) and then Raheem Sterling (Manchester City, 2015).
Combined value of that quintet? £224million.
There have been anxieties that group of stellar talents would be added to this summer. Philippe Coutinho – ‘The Little Magician’ to his team-mates – has been showing the kind of form that has got fans out of their seats but also pricked the interest of Spain’s superpowers.
No longer is Coutinho a player who needed to be at Anfield to show his best form. In the past 18 months, he has ripped Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City to shreds at their own stadiums and also scored a wonderful goal at Old Trafford to bounce Manchester United out of Europe.
He is a player who has blossomed, who has become the focal point of Liverpool’s team, a man who has left the hard-to-please Jurgen Klopp shaking his head in happy disbelief about some of the things he has done on a pitch. The kind of a player, in short, who Liverpool struggle to retain.
That is why the announcement of this contract extension for the Brazilian is so significant. When Suarez signed his long-term extension in December 2013, there was always the feeling that it was more a marriage of convenience, a deal which would benefit both sides.
It turned out to be precisely the case as, within seven months, Suarez was gone. Coutinho, though, is different.
Would there be an auction if he suggested he wanted to leave? Absolutely. Suarez, for one, thinks the world of him – so does Neymar – and they would want him in Barcelona.
All the top clubs in Europe would let their interest be known, whether they be in Munich, Paris or Madrid, but Coutinho has not asked for a release clause to be inserted in this contract. He is happy, settled on Merseyside with his wife, Aine, and their baby daughter, Maria.
Crucially, he is also happy with the direction in which Klopp is taking Liverpool. Before he suffered an ankle injury against Sunderland on November 26, he had been the shining star in an exciting campaign and there is no question his absence in the time since has been felt.
When he has fully recovered, when he is at full speed and picking those passes that split defences in half, Liverpool will be a completely different proposition and Klopp is relishing the chance to build his team around Coutinho.
Klopp can make those plans for the long-term. There is no ambiguity with this deal, no sign that he is here today but, in a few months, gone elsewhere. This, in the eyes of the player and the manager, is the start of something built to last.
Coutinho clearly subscribes to the philosophy and long-term plans of manager Klopp
He knows he can fulfil his dreams and ambitions here at Liverpool,’ said Klopp. ‘This is a big statement.’
A statement, perhaps, that can put an end to a recurring question. Liverpool have an ‘A-list’ talent; one that has put down roots