Philippe Coutinho had only been off the pitch a matter of seconds when Barcelona proved just how much better off they are without the Brazilian playmaker.
Handed a rare start for the home game against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, this was a chance for Coutinho to prove his worth after a difficult season. Instead, his substitution with 10 minutes left to play, and the way Barca ramped up their performance with him on the bench, underlined what many already knew.
Coutinho’s career at Camp Nou may well be as good as over. He remains the club’s record signing, joining from Liverpool in a blockbuster move last year, but while the Brazilian might have a place in Barcelona’s history books, he doesn’t have a place in the team.
It’s entirely possible that Coutinho will end the season as a Treble winner, with Barca on course for a league and cup double, with the Catalans also expected to be among the frontrunners in the Champions League, but the 26-year-old’s role in this, should all this materialise, will have been minimal.
While the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez dominate the Camp Nou stage, Coutinho has been pushed to the peripheries.
Recent speculation linking Coutinho with a departure from Barcelona is therefore unsurprising. The Brazilian has been in Spain for just over a year, but his place at Camp Nou already appears to be untenable. It would benefit both player and club if they were to part ways this summer, with Manchester United reported to be leading the chasing pack.
The arrival of Coutinho at Old Trafford just 18 months after he left Liverpool would be a landmark moment, one of the biggest transfers in Premier League history. Manchester United would see it as a statement, an illustration of how they are ready to move on from the Jose Mourinho era when a player like Coutinho would have been marginalised.
Would Coutinho fare any better under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, though?
The Norwegian is, of course, an attack-minded coach, but his attacks, or at least what we have seen of them so far, don’t hold a place for a playmaker of Coutinho’s mould.
Indeed, Coutinho would most likely be a stylistic misfit for Manchester United just as he was for Liverpool. At this point, it could be pointed out that the Brazilian was at his best during his time at Liverpool. That, of course, rings true, but nonetheless, Coutinho was something of an awkward fit for Jurgen Klopp’s fast and furious outfit.
It’s no coincidence that Liverpool have taken that next step in the year following Coutinho’s exit.
Without the number 10 slowing down their play on the edge of the opposition penalty area, the Reds have been allowed to go full Klopp, fully harnessing the attacking potency of their hard and fast frontline.
United, at least in stylistic terms, are now following the same path set by Klopp and Liverpool. Their front three of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have been liberated, with Solskjaer taking the brake off the Old Trafford side.
Coutinho, as brilliant as he undeniably is as an individual, might put the brake back on.
A Man Utd move for Coutinho would demonstrate a gross misunderstanding of what Solskjaer is building. We were led to believe that things would change in the post-Mourinho age, that United would finally draw up a holistic and coherent transfer strategy, but Coutinho’s would be just as ill-judged a signing as Juan Mata, a diminutive, central playmaker, was for David Moyes, a manager who had no use for one.
If United are once again intent on building a football team rather than just a vehicle to sell shirts and drive users to their iPhone app, they must stay clear of Coutinho and for once look at rivals Liverpool to plot a route for the future, a future that doesn’t include a place for a Brazilian playmaker.