12 minutes, 22 minutes, six minutes. That’s how much game time Philippe Coutinho has been afforded in his last three appearances for Barcelona.
In fact, of the past five games the Brazilian playmaker has been available for, he has started only one. Is this really the sign of a club record £146 million?
It’s been a year since Coutinho made the move to Camp Nou from Liverpool, becoming the most expensive player in Barcelona’s history. It was a landmark signing for the Catalans who were still reeling from the exit of Neymar the summer before.
Positionally, Coutinho wasn’t a replacement for Neymar, but his arrival indicated that Barca could still attract the world’s best.
Yet, Coutinho has never really settled in Spain. The 26-year-old has failed to nail down a role in Ernesto Valverde’s side, watching from the bench in recent weeks.
He has become so peripheral there’s speculation he could leave Barcelona, with Manchester United surprise suitors of the playmaker.
Coutinho surely, on some level, regrets his decision to leave Liverpool when he did. He was the Reds’ best player, the centrepiece around which they were built as a team, yet his sale has had no impact on their development under Jurgen Klopp.
In fact, Liverpool have a much better side in the time since Coutinho’s exit.
While his quality was never in doubt at Liverpool, making the difference for the Reds in countless games, Coutinho was always an awkward fit in a Klopp team.
The Brazilian, sometimes guilty of slowing down play on the edge of the opposition box, went against the grain of Liverpool’s new identity under the German coach. Coutinho’s sale allowed them to become the ultimate Klopp outfit.
There’s no denying Liverpool got the best deal of the three parties concerned, collecting a massive fee for a player who was, in some ways, holding them back.
It’s no coincidence that since selling the little Brazilian the Anfield side have reached the Champions League final, also mounting a genuine Premier League title challenge this season.
A certain romance is attached to Barcelona as a club, and so it’s understandable that Coutinho wished to make the move there.
But from a sporting perspective, Coutinho’s decision last January no longer stands up to scrutiny. Is he really happy sitting on the bench, even if it is for the Spanish champions?
Furthermore, are Barca, as things stand presently, a better team than Liverpool?
They may boast superstars like Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, but on the whole, the case could be made that Jurgen Klopp’s outfit are better balanced and more complete side with a clearer identity, than the Catalans at this moment.
One wonders how Coutinho feels when he watches Liverpool now that he’s gone.
They have thrived in his absence and he could have been a central part of their Premier League title challenge. He could have made the difference against Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League final.
Suarez timed his move to Barca from Liverpool perfectly, with the Reds suffering an almighty drop-off following the striker’s exit in 2014. Coutinho, on the other hand, couldn’t have timed his move any worse.
Liverpool have never replaced Coutinho because they never really needed a player like Coutinho. He wasn’t a Klopp type of player and Liverpool have become an even clearer reflection of their manager in the year since his sale. They’ve gone full Klopp.
Still, Liverpool would have kept Coutinho had that been possible. The Brazilian could have called the deal off at any time. He’d still be a Liverpool player had Barca’s interest been rebuffed, and in that hypothesis, there must be at least a tinge of regret for the Brazilian.
Coutinho’s £146 million transfer was a pivotal moment for both the player and the club he was leaving.
While one has gone up, the other has gone down, and not in the way one might have predicted at the time.