The Brazilian forced a move to Barcelona in 2018 but there has only been one winner in the transfer and that is former club Liverpool
Just over two years ago, Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu unveiled then-club record signing Philippe Coutinho to the world: “I’m very pleased to announce the signing of one the world’s star players and he will be here for many years.”
Barcelona spent €120 million (£105m/$136m) to bring the Brazilian to Camp Nou, as Coutinho pushed to leave Liverpool to join his dream club.
Eight months ago, Bayern Munich sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic repeated some of Bartomeu’s platitudes for Coutinho, telling fans that their club’s new loan signing was “a world-class player with great ability, who we can deploy in a number of positions in our forward line, so the FC Bayern squad has gained even more quality.”
After a disappointing first year in La Liga, Barcelona were content to let Coutinho leave on a season-long loan, hoping that he would do enough in Munich in order for Bayern to activate the €120m purchase clause inserted in the deal.
From the outset, that figure seemed to massively overvalue the 27-year-old, whose stock had greatly fallen since he moved from Anfield to Camp Nou. Nonetheless, strong early performances under Niko Kovac at the Allianz Arena suggested that the Brazilian could get back to his best in Germany.
Three goals and two assists in a 6-1 win over Werder Bremen under Kovac’s replacement Hansi Flick should have been the turning point for his career, but he failed to register either a goal or assist in his next three starts and has not scored since.
Flick has also demoted him to the bench since the winter break and a rare start against Paderborn ahead of this week’s Champions League clash with Chelsea lasted just over an hour before he was rightly replaced by Thomas Muller.
Recent performances have not impressed the decision makers at Bayern Munich, with CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge highlighting his inconsistent showings for the club.
“He has played well in some games. Sometimes he gives the impression that he’s inhibited,” Rummenigge told Bild .
“Everyone tries to support him. We must hope that he will become an important factor in the decisive weeks to come.”
With both Barcelona and Bayern Munich in Champions League action on Tuesday evening, Coutinho is likely to be start from the bench for his temporary team while his chances of breaking back into the Barcelona side next season look to be evaporating.
Much was made of Barcelona playing Coutinho out of position, with many claiming that it was negatively impacting his performances, but no such claims can be made for his role in Munich. Both Kovac and Flick have tried to accommodate him in his preferred No.10 role, but he has just three goals and six assists in 19 games when playing directly behind Robert Lewandowski.
As a result of his inconsistent performances, Bayern Munich will look elsewhere in the summer transfer market even if Barcelona offer a reduced rate. Some ex-Liverpool players have suggested a return to Anfield , but the Reds have moved on since his acrimonious exit.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson would welcome him back to Merseyside , but believes that the Copa America winner’s time with the club is in the past.
“Phil is a good friend of mine,” Henderson told Sport .
“I think he is an exceptional footballer, he has everything, he has a great attitude and he loves football. So, of course, for me he would always be welcome, but it is not up to me.
“It is probably best to ask the manager that. The boys loved him, so if you ask any of them, I’m sure they’ll say they would love to have him back.
“But I think his time here has passed, he has moved and I hope that in the near future we will see the same Phil we saw here.”
Selling Coutinho helped Liverpool finance deals for Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, who helped propel the team to back-to-back Champions League finals and has them on the path to their first English title in 30 years.
Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone even credits Coutinho’s exit with strengthening Liverpool and turning them into the world’s best team.
“They can play counter-attack, they can play the positioning game, they are very strong in the air and have been creating this team for four years now,” Simeone told reporters last week.
“It has been improving even after Coutinho left. It could look as if the team was breaking up, but on the contrary, the team has become even stronger.
“That says a lot about the footballers who are still with Liverpool.”
Since leaving Liverpool, Coutinho has added plenty of medals to his collection, including two La Ligas and a Copa del Rey, but has failed to produce the performances on the pitch that earned him the nickname ‘the Magician.’
As it stands, he looks set to pack up his back of tricks once more at the end of the season, not knowing if he will be welcomed back at Barcelona or whether he will have to pose with another new shirt and listen to plaudits from a different sporting director welcoming a once world-class talent to their club.
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