Philippe Coutinho has arrived five months later than Barcelona hoped, and for more money, but they are convinced they did the right thing in signing the Brazilian
The day after the summer transfer market closed Barcelona's sport director, Albert Soler, and their director of football, Robert Fernandez, ran through a PowerPoint presentation, specially preparations for the occasion. They sat in the press room at the Camp Nou but might as well have sat in the dock. As they talked their style through it, player by player, deal by bargain, those that happened and those that did not, they sought to justify what some considered the unjustifiable. Barcelona were in crisis and they stood accused. The interrogation was intense, the rationale not always convincing.
Instead it was contradictory, as if they could not always get their story straight. More importantly they had not got their man. Neymar had left for Paris, barely a fortnight after the vice-president, Jordi Mestre, declared himself” 200% sure” the Brazilian was staying and they had been unable to stop him. In his place there was no sign of Philippe Coutinho, the man they had so publicly sought. Everybody demanded that someone take responsibility for a summer that most judged disastrous.
The EUR2 22 m PSG had deposited in their account did not help. It might even have stimulated matters worse and, Soler insisted, they would resist being depicted into wild spending- even though they are they did sign Ousmane Dembele for EUR1 05 m, rising to EUR1 45 m. He and Fernandez bemoaned an” inflated marketplace” while the president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, called for a limit on signings, describing the market as “mad”. Soler even claimed Liverpool had offered Coutinho” at the end” for EUR2 00 m. “Logically,” he insisted,” we did not accept that .”
Some had called for abdications, a complete restructuring of a model in which eight different humen had a say on signings- merely for the signing that really mattered not to happen at all.” There will be no resignations ,” Soler said.” We could have signed two players for EUR2 70 m- and we could have- but then we would have to resign for being irresponsible. We're not going to be drawn into that game .”
Four months on they have been drawn into exactly that. Dembele could cost EUR1 45 m, Coutinho EUR1 60 m. Counting merely easily achievable add-ons, that sack-inducing EUR2 70 m outlay will surely be reached. But no one is seriously calling for sackings now and the pressure on the president has receded. Instead there is excitement at this signing, a faith that it strengthens Barcelona staggeringly. And, even as the cost rose, even as Barcelona unexpectedly reached this market eight phases clear at the top, 14 ahead of Real Madrid, the determination to sign Coutinho remained.
That is not to say there have not been doubts and debate. One high-ranking board member wondered whether it was financially responsible to commit to such an expensive signing and asked what impact it might have on other players within the squad. Even after the bargain was done, even with the gratification of the signing finally complete, another of those involved privately conveyed his notion the fee was too much.
That may, as Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp have said, simply be an inescapable reality: either you pay that or you do not have the player. And Barcelona were determined to have this player, a fundamental, strategic piece.
At 25 his role is one of a longer-term project, part of the error is seeing him through the prism of Neymar's departure. That is where Dembele comes in- even though they are, because of injury, he is only just coming in now. As for Coutinho, he can play in a front three and Neymar's deviation may have made the need to sign him feel more pressing, especially amidst summertime fears, but more significant is the need to replace Andres Iniesta, who is 33( Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi are both older than 30 as well ), to find someone who can help secure some continuity in the model, the idea.
” Coutinho has a Barcelona' profile ‘,” Iniesta says. Suarez, who was at Barcelona airport to collect him on Saturday night, said of their 15 months as Liverpool team-mates:” Philippe was incredible. He changed us entirely. He's the one that gave us the faith in having the ball because his technological ability is so good. You knew he wouldn't lose it, you knew that he would render something special with it, that he would always select the right pass … you could see straight away that he was different .” Those qualities are the ones that mean Barcelona feel he is the best equipped for their future.
Suarez, like Messi, wanted Coutinho at Barcelona. Signing him sought to satisfy those demands, as well as those of the fans. It tried, too, to fulfil a commitment to Coutinho himself, who had rebelled as he tried to force the bargain through and whose surrounding and relationships at Anfield had shifted, even though he has continued to play well. And of course it “fixes” the sense of failure in the summer, justifying what they sought to justify back then. Better late than never; yet the sooner the most wonderful, too. If the football is good, the fee is quickly forgotten.
In part that helps to explain why they wanted to sign him now, even if it is not really about this season, even though they are, on the face of it, doing so may seem unnecessary, perhaps even daft: he cannot play in the Champs League and the advantage in the league is such that the need is hardly pressing. Yet signing him now also affords Iniesta rest, Ernesto Valverde strength and assortment, able to rotate three or four roles across the middle and the front line, and Coutinho himself what could be seen as an extended settling-in period virtually pressure free.
It also avoids the problems associated with another potential switching in the market. Even now, in this window, other clubs sought to prise him away. It is easy to imagine Liverpool welcoming the opportunity to sell him elsewhere. Instead they eventually sold Coutinho to Barcelona. Whether he arrives a few months later or a few months early, he has arrived. He expensed them over EUR1 50 m but will not cost anyone his job.
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