Philippe Coutinho has been here before.
The Brazilian playmaker tore up the Premier League during his time at Liverpool, and it earned him a big move to Barcelona, one of the world’s biggest clubs. Players should always look to move up, right?
If anyone knows the inaccuracy of that statement, it’s Coutinho himself.
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The grass isn’t always greener for players who hope to take steps up the footballing ladder. For Coutinho, who slogged through five trying seasons at the Camp Nou, there’s a lesson to be obtained from those difficult years.
Back in the English top flight, Coutinho is back to his best. He will likely have plenty of suitors come the summer, when his loan is up and he is out of contract in Spain. But there’s no reason to force a move, and cherishing continuity as he crosses the 30-year-old threshold this summer would be an advisable route.
Coutinho starring for Aston Villa
The Brazilian playmaker has proven his capabilities since arriving at Villa Park this January on loan from Barcelona.
With just two goals and no assists across 12 La Liga matches this season, Coutinho went off like a powder keg on his return to England. Through eight Premier League matches with Aston Villa, Coutinho has four goals and four assists, with his latest coming Thursday against Leeds United.
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) March 10, 2022
Before coming off in the 77th minute, Coutinho had collected 58 touches playing shaded to the left side, winning four of his five dribble attempts and losing possession just 14 times, picking out three key passes and collecting the goal for himself.
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Overall across his eight Premier League appearances, Coutinho has been excellent, collecting a SofaScore rating under seven just once and helping Villa to four victories and two draws, including three wins on the trot.
“We’ve got Phil [Coutinho] back fit and in a really good place,” said Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard after the win over Southampton on March 5 that saw Coutinho score a goal and assist another. “He was back to his Liverpool form today and he was a touch above. The other players have got a lift from him. It is about having players running in behind for him and Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings were untouchable at times today too.
“When Phil is in the mood he is a world class player. He probably finished my career a couple of years early; he’s the reason I’ve got screws in my knees and groins!”
Coutinho’s loan and possible transfer fee
While Coutinho’s Barcelona deal doesn’t expire until 2023, he absolutely has an out this summer.
According to many reports from this January when the loan deal at Aston Villa was secured, including The Guardian and Sky Sports, there is no loan fee associated with the deal, as Barcelona needed to offload salary to secure other incoming players this winter.
Reports vary on how much of Coutinho’s salary — at a massive $628,000 per week — is being paid by Aston Villa, with some reports giving just 25 percent while others say 65 percent. Either way, that massive package would need to come down for Coutinho to stay at Villa. It could be down to the player’s desire to remain at Villa Park, where he is enjoying a resurgence.
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What doesn’t vary is the transfer fee required to transform the loan deal into a permanent switch, with all reports agreeing that a $45 million fee would be required, as per his loan deal’s stated option to buy.
“For me it doesn’t make any sense to make any decisions now,” Gerrard said when asked in his pre-match news conference ahead of Thursday’s win over Leeds United about Coutinho’s deal. “When he’s physically in the right place, when he’s comfortable and happy and enjoying his football, we all know we’re dealing with a world-class talent.
“We just need to keep enjoying him, to keep him healthy from now until the end of the season and I’m sure he’ll help us. To watch him and work with him and see him get back to his top form and enjoy his football again is a pleasure.”
Coutinho at Barcelona
While Coutinho’s time at Aston Villa has been sensational so far, it’s a massive improvement over his performances at Barcelona.
The Brazilian struggled to earn consistent playing time at the Camp Nou, first shipped to Bayern Munich on loan for the 2019/20 season before returning to Spain for another troubled two years.
With Barcelona, he scored just 16 goals and 10 assists in 76 La Liga matches, plus four more goals and three assists in 18 Champions League games. That’s a paltry return compared with his time in Liverpool, where he bagged 41 goals and 37 assists across 152 glittering games for the Reds, plus another five goals and two assists in 10 Champions League matches, a return which warranted the massive $148 million transfer fee paid by Barcelona.
Coutinho would be wise to remember that a nice, shiny new jersey doesn’t necessarily mean all will be well, and if he demands wages that price him out of an Aston Villa stay, whatever happens next will be squarely on his shoulders.