It has now been over a year since Philippe Coutinho became the world’s second most expensive player in the history of football. The Brazilian moved to Barcelona from Liverpool in a deal which cost a potential total of €160m, has already won three medals at the club and enjoyed many decisive moments yet there is speculation over his future.
Across the playmaker’s first 22 appearances in Spanish football he found the net ten times, yet only six more goals have followed in the following 28 outings for the Catalan giants. Coutinho has faced dilemmas both on and off the pitch, trying to force his way into a star-studded attack while settling into a new culture and language.
Within a month of the former Inter player’s transfer to the Blaugrana, his house had been robbed and this came soon after his medical at his new club discovering a thigh injury. It was not the ideal start for the player but his struggles were not in the limelight due to the longer term injuries and off-field problems of fellow big-money arrival Ousmane Dembele.
Yet now the French forward is scoring regularly and putting in star performances, Coutinho is not only not in the limelight but he is struggling for regular starting appearances. He has started just 13 of Barca’s 22 league matches to date this season with Dembele preferred in attack alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
Coutinho was initially signed as the long-term replacement for Andres Iniesta, who departed for Japan last summer, but this had never been his favoured role and the summer arrival of Arthur Melo from Gremio has appeared to fill this gap. The upcoming arrival of Frenkie De Jong from Ajax, alongside increasing minutes for youth product Carles Alena and the signing of Arturo Vidal, has killed this potential.
The Brazilian’s preferred position is as a playmaker yet Barca do not deploy this role and even if they did, it would be Messi who would fill the breach. Dembele plays the position which Coutinho was often used in for Liverpool and Brazil. Essentially, the 26-year-old is now the odd man out at the club while such heavy investment in the first-team squad has led to suggestions that at least one important first-team squad player may need to leave.
Coutinho is the only player in Barca’s squad who can rival Messi in terms of invention and the ability to unlock a well-organised opposition defence. He must seize any first-team opportunities with both hands and demonstrate that he can not only equal the exploits of his teammates, but better them.
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