‘Never go back’, the saying goes. Repeating something great is never as great the second time round. Yet, as Liverpool continue their pre-season tour of the United States, one transfer rumour has picked up and refuses to go away.
That rumour concerns the possible return of Philippe Coutinho to Anfield.
Struggle rather than success for Coutinho in Spain
It has been eighteen months since the 27-year-old left Liverpool to complete his dream move to Spanish giants Barcelona – a move which has since turned into a nightmare.
Despite claiming two Spanish league titles and a Spanish Cup success, Coutinho has rarely delivered in a Barcelona shirt, struggling to star alongside Lionel Messi and co. Moreover, the Brazilian has a poor relationship with the Barcelona fans, who expected so much more from Coutinho because of his £142m price tag.
A great deal for Liverpool, not so much for Barcelona.
The Spanish club did not help themselves by claiming Coutinho could become the long-term replacement for Barcelona’s beloved Andrés Iniesta, who left last summer for Japan.
In reality, Coutinho is a left-winger or number ten, but has been unable to establish any sort of role at the Nou Camp, alongside Ousmane Dembélé, Barcelona’s first rushed and overpriced signing following the shock departure of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain.
Yet Dembélé is five years younger, versatile across the front three, possesses bags of pace and potential, is friends with new Barcelona superstar and fellow Frenchman Antoine Griezmann, and, as a left-footer, does not block Neymar’s potential return into the Barcelona side, unlike Coutinho.
Dembélé’s chances of succeeding with Barcelona are higher than Coutinho’s, although Griezmann and Messi complicate matters for Dembélé, let alone if Neymar joined Barcelona as well, therefore the 22-year-old could easily depart as well.
Coutinho has been regularly linked with a move away from Barcelona this summer, with Coutinho’s agent Kia Joorabchian even speaking publicly to deny the rumours and find the source of the leaks from Barcelona. Coutinho has reportedly taken his kids out of their school in Barcelona, suggesting that the Spanish club have indeed placed the Brazilian onto the transfer market.
A move to PSG would appear most likely as part of any deal to take Neymar back to the Nou Camp. However, even if Neymar remains in France, Coutinho faces a season on the Barcelona bench with Griezmann, Messi, Luis Suárez and Dembélé all ahead of him in the pecking order.
Klopp and Coutinho reunited?
Hence where the rumours of a Liverpool return have come in.
Coutinho has been pictured frequently with best friend and Liverpool Roberto Firmino in recent days, following Brazil’s triumph in the Copa América. Liverpool’s Brazilian contingent already contains world-class players such as Alisson, Firmino and Fabinho and Coutinho would be around that bracket if he could rediscover his best form from Anfield.
But would Jürgen Klopp take Coutinho back at Liverpool?
Coutinho’s departure was acrimonious at best, and Klopp would have been upset at the loss of another star player to another big club, a feeling he encountered regularly at Borussia Dortmund with Bayern Munich.
Coutinho was told by Klopp that he could become a Liverpool legend or just another player at Barcelona. He has barely even been the latter since moving to Spain, while Liverpool used the Coutinho cash to sign the final two pieces in their missing jigsaw – Alisson and Virgil van Dijk.
The result was a sixth Champions League crown, beating Coutinho’s Barcelona along the way in what was a magical comeback for Liverpool and a disastrous defeat for Barcelona, where Coutinho was nowhere to be found on the pitch.
Does Coutinho fit at Liverpool?
Overall, the deal looks unlikely, but at the right price anything is possible, and Coutinho remains a top-class player at his best. Certainly, he would return determined to find his best level and win back the love of the Liverpool fans who were upset with him by his departure, particularly the manner and timing in which he left.
He already knows the setup of the club and the manager, as well as the Premier League, so settling back in would not take long, but there does not appear to be a clear role for him in Liverpool’s starting eleven.
An expensive luxury? Perhaps, but Liverpool need to assemble the strongest squad possible as they bid to overhaul the mighty Manchester City domestically, as the quest for a first league title in thirty years continues.
Coutinho could rotate with the front three, occupying the left-wing slot in place of the world-class and continually improving Sadio Mané, who could either be rested, moved centrally or placed on the right to rest Mohamed Salah or Firmino instead.
Alternatively, Klopp could use the 4-2-3-1 formation he utilised at times last season to accommodate Xherdan Shaqiri, only with Coutinho as a number ten or on the left instead of the right.
For £60m or less, a Coutinho return to Liverpool looks attractive for the club, but they will have higher priority targets from long-term planning and scouting – Lille’s Nicolas Pépé has been heavily linked for example.
Coutinho’s return would immediately strengthen Liverpool’s squad, but the team has moved on and improved without him, and the Reds could risk a reversal of that if they tried to bring the Brazilian back and accommodate him in the team.