Ernesto Valverde called for respect to be shown to Liverpool and Philippe Coutinho amid reports that the Brazilian playmaker will move to Barcelona this month.
Barca failed with three bids for Coutinho last summer as Liverpool refused to even entertain the idea of selling the 25-year-old.
However, the Premier League club’s stance is claimed to have weakened since then, with Catalan newspaper Diario Sport saying a transfer is “very, very close” and The Times reporting that Coutinho believes he’s already played his last game in England.
Speaking on Wednesday ahead of Barca’s Copa del Rey game against Celta Vigo on Thursday, Valverde left the door open for a move for Coutinho but wouldn’t be drawn on the latest round of reports.
“Coutinho plays for another team,” the Barcelona coach said in a news conference. “He’s a good player, of course, but I like the players I have here right now much more. We don’t know what will happen in the future.”
Barca will likely have to break their transfer record — an initial €105 million, potentially rising to €145m for Ousmane Dembele — to land Coutinho this month.
But with the player cup-tied in the Champions League and the Catalans nine points clear at the top of La Liga, Valverde was asked if there is any pressing need to do the deal before the summer.
“I have nothing to say on Coutinho,” he added. “He is not our player, he plays for another team. Let’s respect the club that he belongs to and respect him, too.”
Valverde was also asked about the future of Samuel Umtiti, with reports suggesting Manchester City will pay the defender’s €60m buyout clause.
“I don’t have to worry about what other clubs could do,” Valverde said. “What’s clear is that Umtiti is a great player and I hope we can continue to enjoy him here for many more years.”
Umtiti joined Barca from Lyon for just €25m in 2016 and has quickly become a key member of the side and his buyout clause, particularly considering Liverpool just paid €85m for Virgil van Dijk, already seems low.
“That’s how it is [in Spain], each player has their price,” Valverde responded when asked if he was against the buyout clauses every player in La Liga must have in their contract. “When they sign their contracts, those release clauses can seem really high. Then, two or three years later, it doesn’t seem that much.
“But we’re really happy with Umtiti and we think that he’s happy in Barcelona and hope that he’ll be here for a long time. These clauses exist but for them to be taken advantage of the player has to want to leave, too.”
Umtiti is currently sidelined with an injury and will still be missing when Barca return to action against Celta in the Copa del Rey round-of-16 this week.
However, there could be minutes for the club’s record signing Dembele, who has recovered from a ruptured tendon after four months out.
“Getting a player like Dembele back is very positive for us,” Valverde said. “He got injured just as he was adapting to the team, but he could be important in the second half of the season.
“We have to be calm and take it step-by-step, though. He has to earn his minutes, of course, but we are counting on him. The ideal scenario would be for him to have a kind of preseason, but the schedule is what it is. We’ll give him minutes little-by-little.”
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.