Lionel Messi picks the ball up around the halfway line, he sprays a delicious long pass to the left flank for the racing Jordi Alba. The left-back delicately plays the ball into the path of Coutinho. The Brazilian tames the ball, shapes up for a shot, and then proceeds to unleash a piledriver. 3-0!
FC Barcelona 3-0 Man United! This 2019 Champions League quarter-final contest is finally put to bed even with half an hour still left to play. Coutinho scoring his trademark goal yet again, the sort of goal he’s scored a great many times. After which he points his fingers to his ears. His face still expressionless and blank.
Indeed, this cold goal celebration was to emphasize he wasn’t hearing all the noise. Coutinho had come under fire for his subpar displays at the club. A section of the fanbase had begun to jeer at him. He had also been whistled at. And so, ultimately, to score such a stunning goal in the Champions League was to remind his doubters why he was signed by Barcelona in the first place.
“I have always been a person with respect for everyone. The truth is that this is so people see that a lot of times I have to cover my ears to maintain my focus on the game or on my work to avoid (the noise) affecting me,” Coutinho explained afterwards. Ever since Coutinho departed Liverpool in 2018, for the most part, he has looked like a fish out of water. At Barcelona his signing was greeted with great fanfare like the latest shinny thing in town.
Signed as a Superstar
After all, this was a player who was at the peak of his game back in England. In the 2016/17 season, Coutinho finished as top scorer in all competitions for Liverpool. He was playing football a notch above any of his peers. Conjuring up moments of sheer brilliance. Scoring goals from ridiculously far away. This was a man who was simply irrepressible and among the very best attacking-midfielders in Europe. So, in Barca’s attempt to beef up their squad, especially after Neymar had acrimoniously departed, 145 million euros was splurged.
Thus, Coutinho became one of the most expensive signings in all of Barca’s history. Yet, for a player tipped for greatness, the Brazilian has had to endure a difficult life in Spain. What, then, could be the possible cause of Coutinho being a shadow of his former self? To a certain extent, it was believed the lack of playmaker role at Barcelona was a major factor. A role which then belonged to Lionel Messi before his departure later on. Additionally, for much of Coutinho’s initial periods at Barcelona, he was deployed as a left winger.
But his lack of blistering pace means he isn’t your typical winger who could stretch the pitch wide and cut inside with brutal speed. What’s more, during the few times he played in a three-man midfield, his low defensive work rate meant the defence didn’t get enough cover. He never looked convincing enough in midfield. And there’s also the obvious issue of his Barca career being plagued by injuries.
Time at Bayern didn’t help
In the 2019/20 campaign, Barcelona loaned Coutinho out to Bayern Munich. In Germany, his performances didn’t drastically improve despite a few games in which he was utterly unplayable. By the end of that campaign, he had won the treble with Bayern, and also had played a vital role in the side that dismantled Barcelona 8-2 in the CL quarter-finals.
Even so, Coutinho returned to Barcelona the following season neither reborn nor redeemed. But rather he’s been listless and incurious. Ever ready to get injured. Never ready to make a difference. He missed 33 games for Barcelona in the 2020/21 season after rupturing his outer meniscus. And now this season, despite missing only two games due to injuries, and in spite of a few starters departing the club in the summer, Coutinho hasn’t quite got his mojo back.
Far From the Starting lineup
All around the former Inter man, new heroes are emerging, new stars are shinning. When Coutinho looks around, he sees Gavi, Nico, Pedri, Ansu Fati. A young battery of players who are supposed to be looking up to him for inspiration. Instead, he’s the one on the bench looking up to these teenagers to win games, to survive ruthless battles and weather the raging storm.
On Tuesday night against Benfica, when Barcelona most needed a win, Coutinho warmed up for the entire second-half without ever coming off the bench. Perhaps, this speaks to us of how much the Brazilian’s prowess has diminished. However, he’s still on the right side of age 30. And he can salvage his Barca career and make the most out of what’s left.