At one point or another over the past five months, Philippe Coutinho’s move from Liverpool to Barcelona became inevitable.
For very understandable reasons, Coutinho wanted it. Barca wanted it. Whether in 2017 or 2018, Liverpool would have to comply.
But the point at which it eventually happened is a head-scratcher. The timing is puzzling. Coutinho flew to Spain Saturday evening to complete a transfer that made a ton of sense as a summer 2017 deal, and even more sense as a summer 2018 deal, but doesn’t make sense right now.
Transfers often require a convergence of incentives. The interests of two clubs and a player must meet amicably at a specific point, and at a specific time, via a compromise. But the timing of Coutinho’s move only aligns with the interests of one of the three parties. It only makes sense for Coutinho. The Brazilian would have been significantly more valuable to Liverpool over the coming five months than he will be to Barcelona. So why couldn’t the deal wait for June?
Coutinho has been Liverpool’s second-best player throughout the first half of this season. He has had a superlative year-and-a-half on Merseyside. He has been, and would have been, integral in the Reds’ push for the Premier League’s top four. The difference between fourth place and fifth, which Coutinho might just be, is worth tens of millions of dollars to Liverpool. It’s the difference between the Champions League and Europa League, between being able to attract world-class players and being unable to, between an ascent under Jurgen Klopp and stagnation.
Barcelona unveil Philippe Coutinho at the Nou Camp as he completes £145m move from Liverpool after agreeing contract with £354m release clause.
Coutinho, over the next five months, would have been hugely important to that ascent. Oh, and he would have had a big part to play in guiding Liverpool through the Champions League knockout stages, too.
At Barcelona, he won’t be able to play in the Champions League. Because he led Liverpool to the Round of 16, he’s cup-tied, and ineligible to compete for another club in Europe’s top competition until next season. With Barcelona seemingly walking to a La Liga title without him, 14 points clear of Real Madrid, Coutinho’s only real value to the Catalans over the next five months will be in the quarterfinals and beyond of the Copa Del Rey.
Coutinho, of course, won’t be a negative to Barcelona. His contract – five-and-a-half years instead of five – won’t be any shorter. He’ll have five extra months to gel with new teammates. And hey, some La Liga security and the Copa Del Rey aren’t nothing.
But his relatively high value to Liverpool was reflected in the transfer fee. Barcelona blew the roof off even the most outlandish rumors and will pay a fee that could rise to $192.5 million. Had it allowed Liverpool to enjoy five more months of Coutinho’s prime, if transfer market forces operated logically, it would not have had to pay that much. And if the value of the price decrease corresponded to Coutinho’s value to Liverpool over the next five months, it would have outstripped his value to Barcelona.
There are counterarguments to that line of thinking. Chief among them is that more Coutinho brilliance, both for Liverpool and at the World Cup in June, could have inflated Coutinho’s price even more. And that might be true. But then the logical solution would have been to agree a deal now for Coutinho to move in the summer. Liverpool surely would have preferred that. Barcelona should have been amenable to it, as long as the price reflected the different timetable. Would $170 million have worked? $160 million? Whatever compromise, the two clubs should have been able to come to one.
It appears the urgency came from Coutinho’s camp. His new contract will be lucrative. His new surroundings will fulfill a dream. He didn’t want to wait, and Barcelona felt compelled to appease him. It’s yet another example of power lying with the players.
That Coutinho ultimately won the negotiations isn’t a disaster for either club. But if Liverpool ultimately fails to qualify for the 2018-19 Champions League, and if the extra millions tacked onto Coutinho’s price ultimately complicate Barca’s finances – which, by the way, aren’t as stable as you might think – it could be costly.