The Coutinho Question

While many rung in the New Year by watching the ball drop in Times Square despite the cold weather, Nike inaugurated 2018 with what appeared to be an announcement of Philippe Coutinho’s long-awaited transfer from Liverpool to Barcelona.

Screenshots from the Nike store advertised the opportunity to buy Barcelona kits with the “Magician’s name on it.” While it quickly became clear that no transfer had occurred, this strange media mishap indicates that Barcelona’s interest in the player has in no way waned since the summer.

In the past four months, the Brazilian technician has continued to show the same qualities that initially caught the Blaugranas’ eyes. His combination of supreme control, vision, dribbling, and goalscoring have dazzled both Premier and the Champions League fans alike. Statistics website WhoScored ranks Coutinho as the fourth best player in Europe’s top five leagues behind fellow Brazilian Neymar, potential future teammate Lionel Messi, and Frenchman Nabil Fekir. Barcelona’s pining for this player seems justified then from an on-the-field perspective, but does the transfer hold up given the economics and situations of the teams involved?


For one, the January transfer window is rarely a good time for teams to make deals. With less time to iron out details and clubs taking a frantic approach to the market, January often plays home to overpriced and ill-advised transfers. The Coutinho deal fell apart over the summer in part because Barcelona refused to pay what they considered to be an exorbitant fee even after becoming flush with cash from Neymar’s blockbuster move to PSG. This excuse appears inconsistent with the 94.5 million pounds, the second-highest transfer fee, Barcelona payed for 20 year-old French phenom Ousmane Dembele who joined the club from Dortmund in the wake of Neymar’s departure, but regardless Liverpool will demand a massive fee for the Brazilian.

As the new TV deals for the American and British broadcasting rights have left the Premier League flush with cash, players plying their trade in England have seen their transfer fees inflate compared to the rest of Europe. One example is goalkeeper Jordan Pickford who moved for 25.65 million pounds from relegated Sunderland to Everton making him the third-most expensive goalkeeper ever. Additionally, Liverpool’s new centre-back Virgil van Dijk became the most expensive defender after his 70.92 million pound switch from Southampton. The point is Coutinho is a valuable player – transfermarkt values him at 80.5 million pounds an increase from 40.5 million over the summer – who will have an added premium because he plays in England.  

Competitive Situations:

In terms of competitive play, the transfer likely would not affect Barcelona’s chances in La Liga, the Champions League, or the Copa del Rey while hurting Liverpool’s own top four campaign and forays in the Champions League and FA Cup. Barcelona currently have a comfortable nine-point lead in the Spanish league over second-placed Atletico Madrid and a massive 14-point advantage of rivals Real Madrid. Having already played for Liverpool in the Champions League this season, Coutinho is cup-tied and therefore cannot help Barcelona against Chelsea in the last 16 or beyond. Given Barcelona’s lead in the league, Coutinho would not have a meaningful influence on the return of the title to Barcelona, which FiveThirtyEight predicts Barca currently have a 96% chance of winning. Furthermore, with the return of Ousmane Dembele from injury and the improvement of Paco Alcacer, the Catalan club are not lacking for offensive options in the second half of the 2017-18 season.

Meanwhile, Liverpool find themselves mired in a tight battle for the top four. The Merseyside team’s fabulous four of Coutinho, Mane, Firmino, and Salah have lead the charge towards the top of the table with their domineering offense, but losing Coutinho, who has chipped in with 12 goals and eight assists this season, could derail an attack that has hummed so far.


Barcelona’s motivation for purchasing Coutinho largely lies in Andres Iniesta’s decline as the Spaniard approaches the end of his career. Now 33, Iniesta has seen his minutes decrease as the club carefully manage his body. With a hole opening up on the left of the midfield, Coutinho would be a natural replacement for the Barcelona legend. While Iniesta’s countryman Isco may have been a more natural and philosophically sound replacement, Coutinho is a more than able player to fill the World Cup Winner’s illustrious boots. However, the advantages of Barcelona getting the Brazilian now versus the summer are negligible. Unable to provide a boost to Barcelona’s Champions League pursuits, Coutinho would be an unnecessary luxury in the Blaugrana’s league campaign. Meanwhile, a January transfer would likely cost Barcelona more than a summer move.

For Liverpool, the transfer might only make sense from a fee perspective. Coutinho’s cost would replenish Liverpool’s coffers after the purchase of Virgil van Dijk and give the team extra cash to shore up the rest of its squad. While the money would be welcome, the Reds would be losing one of their most influential players, without whose presence the team could suffer on multiple fronts. With the results of Liverpool’s season much less assured than Barcelona’s, the club needs Coutinho on the field more than they need the money right now. Liverpool legend and pundit, Jamie Carragher, takes a similar perspective. 

For both parties, a summer transfer conducted more calmly without the pressures of competition would be the best path forward.



2 thoughts on “The Coutinho Question

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