Brazilian Philippe Coutinho is the third most expensive player in football history after world stars Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. On the pitch, however, he is no longer reminiscent of the man who once delighted Anfield – and called Barça onto the scene.
If only Coutinho hadn’t left Liverpool for Barcelona…
The Brazilian is now 30 years old and should actually be in the prime of his career. Instead, he’s injured, rarely plays and is far from the form that once brought FC Barcelona and FC Bayern to the scene.
Where and how did Coutinho take a wrong turn?
Coutinho’s poor exit from Anfield
When Coutinho left Liverpool for Barcelona in January 2018, it looked like a win-win situation. The player fulfilled a lifelong dream, would play for the biggest titles alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. The Blaugrana, meanwhile, got a player at the peak of his ability, a highly skilled technician who would learn from Andrés Iniesta and then replace him as midfield strategist.
Liverpool, on the other hand, received the record transfer fee of €135m, which was reinvested in Klopp’s squad.
Coutinho had expressed his desire to leave the club the summer before, even suffering a mysterious ‘back injury’ as Barça interest grew.
He then came back into the squad and even captained Liverpool in his penultimate game. But internally it was decided that the Brazilian should leave.
The new signings Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker were paid with the transfer fee for Coutinho. Key players with whom the Reds won the Champions League, Club World Cup and Premier League.
Although they may have regretted his departure at first, Liverpool fans have all but forgotten him.
Coutinho’s dream turned into a nightmare
At first glance, Coutinho and Barcelona seemed a perfect match. A technically gifted, creative footballer in a club that values and develops technically gifted, creative footballers more than anyone else? What could possibly go wrong?
Quite a lot, as it turned out. Coutinho may have been part of a side that won two La Liga titles and a Copa del Rey in four years, but he was not a key player – any more than he was during his loan spell at Bayern Munich, where he won the Champions League .
He only scored five goals in his first half in Catalonia. In three and a half years he was only 70 times in the starting XI and scored 28 goals. Some of them were worth seeing, but he was never an Iniesta successor.
Especially when you consider that he is the third most expensive player in history, his time at Barcelona was a disaster.
Philippe Coutinho: trip to Bayern Munich
There is also a certain irony in this: Coutinho left Liverpool to win the Champions League. However, FC Barcelona has been waiting for its next triumph in the premier class since 2015 and to this day. In spring 2019 he even failed with the Blaugrana themselves in the semifinals against Liverpoool – who later went on to lift the title, a year and a half after Coutinho’s departure.
The Brazilian himself was then allowed to raise the handle pot: 2020 as a loan employee, but not a regular player, from FC Bayern. At that time, Munich paid him 8.5 million euros for one season.
During the 2020 corona pandemic, FC Bayern then met FC Barcelona. Coutinho came off the bench and set up two goals to win 8-2. It must have been an incredibly strange day for the Brazilian. Ten days later he secured the handle pot as a substitute against Paris Saint-Germain.
Munich did not want to sign Coutinho after that. Instead, he returned to the Camp Nou – and may have been greeted with some critical words.
Steven Gerrard rang through Coutinho
After his return to Barcelona, Coutinho failed to get fit and in top form. In the 2020/21 season he was unable to secure a regular place and was only used 14 times in all competitions. The following season was similar. In January, the Catalans were ready to give him up for good.
A call from Steven Gerrard, his old Liverpool team-mate, convinced him to return to the Premier League. Aston Villa certainly wasn’t a club Coutinho would have ever wanted to play at. But Gerrard and the Premier League, where he was once so successful, won him over. He first came on loan for six months.
Philippe Coutinho: No consistency and injuries
Coutinho got off to a good start in the Midlands. He scored one goal on his debut against Manchester United. The familiar dribbles, killer passes and long-range shots were back, as were the smiles and the hunger – at first it looked like Gerrard had revived him.
But since his permanent commitment for 21 million euros, he no longer plays like before. Gerrard had to leave in October 2022. His successor Unai Emery rarely lets the Brazilian play.
His only appearances since Gerrard’s departure have come in the FA Cup defeat by second division side Stevenage in January and the 4-2 defeat by Arsenal in February.
That was also the last time Villa fans saw him. A muscle injury has since put him out of action. Emery confirmed after his side’s win against Tottenham last weekend that Coutinho has suffered a setback that will likely sideline him for the remainder of the season.
What’s next for Philippe Coutinho?
So one can wonder if this is the last time we saw Coutinho at Villa and if he is still a good player at all.
He may only be 30 years old, but it’s been at least three years since he’s consistently delivered. In his last three seasons with Liverpool he has scored 38 goals and established himself as a world-class attacking midfielder. But in the six seasons since then he has only scored 43 goals.
Aston Villa would certainly like to take the top earner off the payroll in the summer. The only question is: who would get him? Who would be willing to hope to find their old form again?
Certainly not Liverpool. Long gone are the days when Coutinho shone at Anfield.