The Big Debate: Should Liverpool welcome the return of Coutinho?

In this series, we take a look at all of football’s talking points – from the hottest topics to ones we just made up during drunken bar debates – and attempt to dissect them and give you the definite answer once and for all.

P.S. We are confident and 100% certain that our views and opinions will (and should be) be the final answer to any of your burning footballing questions i.e. if you disagree with any of our verdicts, it simply means that you know absolutely nothing about football. So feel free to use these articles (we recommend you print and put them in your wallet or anywhere convenient) whenever you find yourself in those annoying bar situations, trying to valiantly prove that Roberto Firmino is the best forward in the league to a clueless friend - simply whip this right out and it will serve as the ultimate “shut-up-I-am-right” football bible, putting everything to bed.

P.P.S. Firmino is indeed the best striker in the league

So the big debate: With reports suggesting a possible return for Philippe Coutinho back to Anfield, will a reunion be any good?

Football’s nightmare transfers

There is always this story in football: You know the one where the prologue is about a player whom once upon a time had the entire world at his feet, the one with the Midas touch that turned every single kick of the football into gold, and the one who thought that maybe there are greener pastures elsewhere?

It's a theme that is perhaps too common in football that by now, we are all too familiar with the ending.

And clue - it’s not a fairytale.

Michael owen celebrating his famous world cup goal against argentina in 1998
Image Source: 90min

Think Michael Owen during his early days - his famous goal against Argentina in the World Cup ’98, the brace against Arsenal to lift the FA Cup and even clinching the prestigious Ballon d'Or in 2001. All the success rightly elevated him into the pinnacle of football stardom and he was surely recognized as one of Europe's most elite forwards. Owen eventually left Anfield for the mighty Real Madrid and fast forward nine years later, football's very own Confucius became quite the forgotten man, and was plying his trade at the Britannia Stadium under Tony Pulis. Not quite the Santiago Bernabeu or galactico treatment, you’d imagine.

fernando torres in a chelsea jersey
Image Source: Football London

Fernando Torres shared a similar story. The Spaniard enjoyed his best football at Anfield after arriving from sunny Spain, establishing himself as one of the best strikers in the world. In fact, Torres' incredible 29 goals in the 07/08 season saw him eclipsed Owen's record for most goals in a season. He then left for rivals Chelsea in 2011, and despite a Champions League medal to show for, it's fair to say his career went on a downward trajectory after exiting the doors of Melwood. The world surely saw the best version of El Nino exclusively during his time at Liverpool, and one can only wonder what a Luis Suarez-Torres partnership would be like. And we bet the Spaniard wonders too.

There have been reports swirling around that Barcelona are now willing to sell Coutinho at a bargain price, taking a significant loss to offload the Brazilian off their books. It’s yet another story of a footballer who fell from grace after a wrong transfer, although the ending for this one isn’t quite set in stone yet.

philippe coutinho after a missed opportunity for barcelona
Image Source: Getty Images

The former Liverpool fan-favorite forced a 142 million pounds move to Camp Nou in January 2018 after a long transfer saga, with the manner he left ensuring that he had burnt most of his bridges. He then enjoyed a decent first half after his "dream move" to Spain, scoring 10 times in 22 matches for Barcelona. The early spark quickly fizzled out and the little magician was soon struggling to settle into the team of superstars, with insipid performances (especially during that Champions League against Liverpool) drawing boos from the home fans - quite the opposite reception during his heydays at Anfield, where his obvious talent was hugely appreciated by the Kop.

The Brazilian then joined German giants Bayern Munich on a season-long loan after just one largely unsuccessful season at his new club, hoping for a resurgence in his career. Perhaps not quite as disastrous as his spell in Spain, Coutinho has been rather solid while playing for the Bavarian outfit. His stand-out performance was of course against SV Werder Bremen, grabbing a hat-trick and registering a couple of assist in the 6-1 victory.

But such impressive performances are becoming increasingly rare for Coutinho. Besides, spectacular should really be the right word to describe the performances his mercurial talent can produce, rather than just solid. His days at Anfield were those of an archetypal Brazilian playmaker - a creative number 10 who had memorizing dribbling ability that left defenders on their bums and an eye for unbelievable goals from 30 yards.

Those glorious days are long gone now, with him seemingly always out of sync with his new teammates - be it Lionel Messi or Robert Lewandowski - as he struggles to provide the attacking threat that once saw him as one of the best attacking midfielders in the world.

It is not only his teammates that proved to be obstacles since his venture out of Anfield. Then Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde constantly deployed Coutinho on the left wing, almost as if he was intended as a like-for-like replacement for Neymar Jr, who left a sizable hole to fill since leaving for Paris Saint-Germain.

neymar jr and coutinho exchanging handshakes during brazil game
Image Source:

The two Brazilians are clearly naturally gifted players, but quite obviously have significantly contrasting playing styles. Neymar often utilized his skills and pace to beat defenders time and time again, constantly providing a threat with his directness and eagerness to attack. Coutinho was more of a playmaker - a little more patient in his approach and definitely not as quick, often using his creativity and vision to create and score goals instead.

It was clear that Coutinho was a square peg in a round hole on the wide left, but Valverde struggled to fit the Brazilian elsewhere in the starting eleven, and insisted on those misfiring tactics. With Ousmane Dembele vying for the final spot in the front three (Messi and Luis Suarez occupied the other two by default), the Brazilian had his work cut out against the Frenchman whose primary position is a winger, and enjoys hugging the touchline like Neymar Jr.

Bayern Munich interim manager Hansi Flick has also recently explained that Coutinho has yet to reach his full potential at Allianz arena, with the in-form Thomas Muller ahead of him in the pecking order. He is far from being the central figure like he was at Liverpool, and has to content with appearances off the bench.

Being played out of position and the lack of regular minutes are surely factors that are hindering the 27-year-old’s progress from being back to his best days - the days when he weaved in between defences that were so easy on the eye, picked out clever passes expertly with precision and ability to curl the ball into the top corner from miles away with proper finesse.

The price tag seems to be weighing on his back too - he moves about on the pitch with much less ease, looks to be trying too hard at times and the touch of effortless Brazilian magic left long behind in England.

The possibility of a return

There are lots of speculations about Coutinho's future, and we are not even sure if the number 10 wants a move back to Anfield. But England for now looks the best bet to get his career back on track, and should he play the role as the prodigal son, will he be able to reach those dizzy heights once again for Liverpool?

Jurgen Klopp has transformed the team massively since Coutinho's departure, bringing home the Champions League and looks all set to clinch the league title this year to show for his efforts. Crowned World Champions too, the Liverpool team has obviously developed into a well-oiled outfit - but will the German see a place in his team for the little magician?

Boasting the league’s best defence led by the imperious Virgil van Dijk and a world-class attack that combines efficiency and brilliance to perfection, perhaps, just perhaps, Liverpool's only little chink in the armor is in its midfield department - and where we can see the return of Coutinho potentially providing the team a little something special.

liverpool's midfield of wijnaldum, milner and henderson
Image Source: Liverpool FC

The Reds midfielders all belonging in a similar mould is a common criticism that they have attracted in the recent past, with the likes of James Milner, Gini Wijnaldum, Naby Keita and Jordan Henderson all possessing similar attributes. They are the type of players that will give a 100% each game, hardly spectacular but displaying the sort of admirable graft and energy that often carries the team over the line. Almost a guaranteed 8/10 performance each game.

This, of course remains highly debatable, considering the extraordinary success they have been enjoying this season.

coutinho dinking the ball over de gea
Image Source: PA, Ian Hodgson

But Liverpool fans are well aware of the magic that the Brazilian is capable of conjuring. Coutinho has the ability to create something out of seemingly nothing - unlocking the tightest of defences with an acute touch or popping up with a magical goal no one quite expects. Remember the goal against Manchester United in the Europa League Round of 16? Just when the United side look set to overcome a first-leg deficit, Countinho popped up with an absolute beauty, dancing through United’s defence and coolly dinking past a helpless David de Gea. The audacity and brilliance was enough to silence the whole of Old Trafford - even the away fans were probably silent for just half a second - as they watched in awe.

coutinho shooting from long range against stoke city
Image Source: Premier League

Or how about his 25 yards screamer against Stoke City in the dying minutes of a drab, drab match, where his single moment of brilliance snatched all three points for the Reds?

The two goals stood out for us when we think about the little magician from Rio, but we are certain everyone has their own favourite memory of the number 10, such was his sheer brilliance during his five years for at Anfield.

It is really almost impossible to argue a case that Liverpool would benefit a whole lot more with Coutinho this season, considering Henderson and friends have only dropped two points during the entire campaign so far.

But we are certain that during moments when teams set up really deep and compact - causing Liverpool to struggle for even just a tiny period to break them down - the thought of Coutinho dancing around the Sheffield United’s backline conjuring a little magic to change the complexity of the game has crossed the minds of most fans, even if for a fleeting moment.

Would we love to see him in the famous red shirt of Liverpool again, delighting the Kop with a little bit of samba magic that we might have missed a little?

Verdict: Yes, please.

coutinho celebrating another goal for liverpool
Image Source: Liverpool FC

We hated how he left, but the Torres’ lesson taught us that time indeed does heal all wounds - and a reunion really will not be too bad at all. Coutinho will hardly require any time to settle into the team, re-joining a growing Brazilian contingent and already well-acquainted with even the likes of Carol and Caroline.

The Brazilian’s audition in Camp Nou and Allianz Arena might not have enchanted too many (to some fans’ delight), but the sight of the little magician pulling apart defences with a nifty bit of sleight of hand (or leg) at Anfield every week, should rightly propel him back into the spotlight his exceptional talent deserves - and a chance for him to write the closing chapter of his book.

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