His signing was part of a summer splurge at Barcelona that saw the Catalan club spend £337m in one transfer window, yet two years later he was loaned to European rivals Bayern Munich. It’s fair to say Phillipe Coutinho’s £121m move to Barcelona must go down as one of the worst of all time, as Barca prepare to face the German champions in the Champions League.
Now Coutinho is on his way back from a long-term injury but could feature against the club where he had a relatively successful loan spell in 2019-20. He scored 11 in 38 matches in all competitions and helped the Germans win the Bundesliga, Champions League DFB Pokal as they secured an impressive treble that saw Bayern’s sporting director Hasan “Brazzo” Salihamidzic state his desire to keep the Brazilian at the club.
However, due to finances, and the high wage Coutinho is on at Barcelona, this dream could not be turned into a reality, even when the chance to sign him in Barca’s summer fire sale emerged. However, with Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann both departing the Camp Nou, there is an opportunity for the former Liverpool man to transform his legacy in Spain, with his contract expiring in two years time.
So far, his performances in Spain have been way below the standard he set for himself on Merseyside, with injuries constantly plaguing his time at the club. Last term he made just 12 appearances, his lowest return since 2013, and despite being one of the world’s finest attacking midfielders at Liverpool, he hasn’t settled at Barca.
Of course, part of this is down to the demise of the club. He was brought in with Ousmane Dembele to fill the boots of Neymar, who left for a world record transfer fee, but Barca somehow spent more on the two replacements than they received. Luis Suarez and Messi were still at the club and they won back to back league titles, but that was mainly thanks to the Argentinian superstar rather than the new signings as Coutinho received more criticism from the fans despite 11 goals in 54 appearances.
His wages, reportedly £350k a week, are only part of the reason Barcelona are in so much debt, yet it feels, unfairly in truth, as though he is now a symbol for a regime that has seen Messi forced to leave the club he loves. That is a move that is unforgivable for the fans that adored him so much and although they will stick by the team, this new era for Barcelona still features a few left-overs on big salaries.
Coutinho is one of those and this season, under Ronaldo Koeman, he has the chance to finally prove his worth to the team. Bayern Munich saw the best of him in his loan spell but at the age of 29, he is unlikely to earn another contract at Barcelona given his history there. However, if he can step up and become a key player in a side that has relied on Messi so much over the past decade, he could help partially fill the void left by his absence.
But Barcelona are unlikely to win anything this term, let alone the Champions League. Meanwhile, Bayern Munich are looking as strong as ever and could well go all the way, as they did in 2020. The 8-2 was one of the most embarrassing nights in Barca’s history and with their squad looking indifferent again under Koeman and Bayern having scored 24 goals in their last four matches, a similar sort of pasting could be on the cards.
Coutinho faces a big test over the next few months. If he can force his way into Koeman’s plans, who appears willing to give him a chance, he could kickstart his Barca career, but any more injuries or failures, and the exit door will be flung wide open for him to depart. At the moment he typifies the demise of Barca, yet he could be a key pillar in the rebuild.