Liverpool fans are concerned that Philippe Coutinho’s exit to Barcelona is one sale too many, indicative of a club that’s progressively failed to see itself as one of the major institutions of European football.
The club have, in recent years, made a fortune from the sale of their best stars. For a £30 million total outlay on Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and now Coutinho they have recouped a quite staggering £267m. But the loss of these players, especially Suarez, made the team much weaker as a result.
Supporters have felt for some time the owners, Fenway Sports Group, are failing to fully commit to their English “project”. Jurgen Klopp’s net spend at Liverpool stands at minus £40m over three years and for a club pretending to be a major player in the European game, that is scandalous.
If there are plans for a Coutinho replacement in this window, that’ll make the figure marginally more respectable but making big deals in January is notoriously tricky. Fans don’t want to see another Andy Carroll for example, a £35m deal in 2012 made purely for the sake of appeasement after the £50m sale of Fernando Torres to Chelsea. The Newcastle forward arrived in a double deal with Suarez, and another arrival like the Uruguayan would please supporters far more.
As with any major sale, it’s what a club does with its windfall that counts. Liverpool were spectacularly wasteful with the Suarez money, so it’s hoped Klopp can do a lot better than that.
Klopp, a manager who values squad unity above all else, may have felt that if Coutinho was about to succumb to oddly timed injuries — just as he had in August — it was going to be too much of a distraction for a side that is in a rich vein of form right now, on a 17-match unbeaten run since a 4-1 defeat at Tottenham in October.
How much of that form was down to the Brazilian will now be debated furiously by the supporters. In the immediate aftermath of his departure, there will not be a lot of nostalgic affection for Coutinho. Perhaps in time fans will look back fondly on a Liverpool career that had many fine moments in it.
Such memories will be tarnished initially by the nature of his departure and the brutal fact that none of his best goals led to any major triumphs. His winner against Manchester City in what seemed a title race decider in April 2014, for example. A mazy run and cool finish against Manchester United in the 2016 Europa League clash helped Liverpool on their way to an ultimately dismal final against Sevilla. Coutinho leaves Liverpool without a winners’ medal of any description.
His free kick prowess was a deadly asset for his team, especially in games where Liverpool had previously failed to break their opponents down. But like many before him he’ll be seen as a fine player whose talent Liverpool did not augment sufficiently. In the lengthening list of stars who should have had a Premier League winners’ medal he will, however, rank below Suarez, Steven Gerrard or even Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen at their peak.
At first glance, Klopp’s squad looks a little stronger than the one which Brendan Rodgers was left with after the departure of Suarez. If one or two players can be added that are better than Rodgers’ 2014 recruits it will be a signal that the Reds are ready to move on.
Why Liverpool chose to allow Coutinho to leave in January — a notoriously difficult time to prise top stars away from their clubs — will remain a mystery unless the club already have someone lined up. And if Klopp has decided the squad needs a more even distribution of talent, one that can get through any injury crisis without depending as much on one admittedly very talented individual, the move makes a little more sense.
But how a club attracts new talent with its reputation for selling its greatest stars is still a conundrum that Klopp must solve for the long-term good of Liverpool.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC’s Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.