The Reds rejected the 25-year-old’s transfer request as well as three bids from the Catalan club and even if it gets ugly, they must remain unmoved
They are words tattooed to transfer windows past, repeated near daily in the present: ‘No-one is bigger than Liverpool FC’.
The phrase, affixed to Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling in recent history, is trending again on the subject of Philippe Coutinho, who is counter-pressing the Reds’ refusal to sell him to Barcelona this summer
The sentence is a simple and powerful one, but is often erroneously viewed solely in the context of a player wanting to exit Anfield, with the intimation that the club will carry on if he departs.
The real potency of the message, though, is that the desire of any individual – footballer or otherwise – should always be secondary to what is in the best interests of Liverpool.
So what exactly is that right now?
Having broken into the top four for only the second time in eight years last season, the Merseysiders do not just want to carry on.
They have the “highest ambitions”, a point communicated more than once by manager Jurgen Klopp, and they cannot truly advance if they cave to Coutinho’s wish and service Barca’s needs rather their own.
The Catalan club have seen three formal proposals – bloated by ridiculous add-ons – rebuffed for the Brazil international, whose transfer request was rejected last Friday as the Reds stick to their “definitive stance” that he is not for sale this summer.
It does not matter how disagreeable the situation becomes as Coutinho acts out of desperation – as was the case with Suarez motioning for a switch to Arsenal four years ago, the long-term result is bound to outweigh the immediate hassle.
Liverpool have prepared for 2017-18 on the proviso that they would be enhancing their foundation, not removing an integral frame from it.
“The main thing I think about is how we can make the next step with the players we had last season,” Klopp said on July 18.
“The good news is we didn’t lose – and we will not lose – a player we want to keep this summer.
“That’s the best news actually and then we’ll see who can bring into the squad.”
A receding of the emphatic statement by owners Fenway Sports Group that “no offers for Philippe will be considered” and he will still be on their books come September 1 would flip the middle finger to the above and elevate the pressure on an already strenuous recruitment drive.
There are less than two weeks to go before yellow ties and purple dildos signal deadline day. The opinion that Liverpool should “cash in” on the 25-year-old, who has missed the start of the season through a convenient back injury, and seek to replace him suggests those advocating it, including ex-players, must have been sleepwalking through the window thus far.
The Reds have yet to tick off two priorities identified before the close of last season: an aerially dominant centre-back, confident on the ball and composed in big spaces, plus a dynamo in the centre of the park.
Their willingness to make Virgil van Dijk the most expensive defender in the world was met with a tapping-up allegation from Southampton in June, leading to the club making a public apology and ‘ending all interest’ in the 26-year-old.
Saints maintain they will not sanction a sale for the Netherlands international, despite his agitation for an exit, a position yet to be tested by a blockbuster bid. RB Leipzig, meanwhile, turned down two lucrative approaches from Liverpool for midfielder Naby Keita – the second of which equalled the Bundesliga record for a transfer – with the same line the English side have served Barca: no deal no matter the price.
Having already encountered obstinate clubs, and with the knowledge that in this warped climate money doesn’t necessarily get you what you want when you want it, why should the Reds cede their star performer to a team they ultimately want to compete with just to get more of it?
Who can they realistically buy, at this stage of the summer, that is of equal or superior quality to Coutinho?
And in a maddening market, for how much?
With time depreciating, cracking the transfer conundrums they already have is proving taxing enough for Liverpool without chucking ‘Replace Best Player’ into the equation.
The club have curated a front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah to profit from Coutinho’s cerebral, defence-dissecting service.
The idea was to have one the most explosive, varied forward lines in Europe being supplied by one of the game’s premier playmakers. You cannot have fireworks if there’s nobody to light the fuse and without ‘The Magician’, especially given Adam Lallana’s absence through a thigh injury for a minimum of two months, Liverpool do not have experienced, creative architects in their squad.
They need to be sourcing more quality in that department, not waving bye bye to their world-class element of it.
There are, of course, understandable concerns over how the Coutinho saga is affecting the dressing room as well as the backroom staff.
Klopp has been visibly frustrated by the endless questions over the Brazilian’s future, and given the German’s emphasis on the collective, he’ll be vexed that the talk around Liverpool centres around an individual who doesn’t even want to be there.
Trust, commitment and respect are all crucial to the 50-year-old, and he will feel betrayed on all three accounts in this situation.
Coutinho’s actions will be all the more perplexing to the manager considering the discussions the pair had at the tail end of last year, while the player was nursing ankle ligament damage.
Klopp sketched a high-definition picture to his prized asset of the shifting landscape in European football, where superpowers like Barca – ironically – were starting to weaken and Liverpool, given their trajectory and vision, could restore themselves amongst the continent’s elite.
In the meetings, it was also explained to Coutinho that he would be the on-pitch instigator of this progress, and as they moved forward together, the adulation he’d receive from the Kop would be ceaseless.
The Rio-born talent was convinced enough to sign a new five-year deal in January without a release clause, and his camp arranged an interview with the Daily Mail shortly afterwards – not in conjunction with Liverpool – in which he said: “My heart is here. I do not think about any other club. Not at all.”
He echoed those thoughts in May, and upon returning to Melwood for pre-season training on July 11, described his happiness at being back at the club and his ambitions for the season with Liverpool.
Everything that has happened since ignited by Neymar’s world-record switch from Camp Nou to Paris Saint-Germain, has turned the market on its head and turned Coutinho’s head.
With Barca unable to get Liverpool to negotiate, the onus has fallen on the Reds’ two-time Player of the Season to force them to soften their position as is the case with Ousmane Dembele at Borussia Dortmund.
If he opts for the extreme route, Coutinho would do well to revisit the Suarez saga of 2013 when the Uruguayan admitted he took steps while “desperate, confused and feeling stuck” that he quickly came to regret.
Reintegrating the striker wasn’t an issue for former manager Brendan Rodgers, despite them not speaking properly for just over two months. There was relief in the dressing room that he was staying and there was no doubt the forward would continue to perform to devastating effect.
It would be the same for Coutinho, especially with a World Cup next year, and it should be remembered that bar four players in the senior squad – Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jon Flanagan, Ben Woodburn and Ryan Kent – everyone else has moved to Liverpool to further their careers.
They will understand his ambition and that it has been, as per captain Jordan Henderson’s assessment “a difficult period” for him.