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OPINION: Coutinho is at a crossroad...after rejecting Spurs, where can he go?

  /  autty

Sometimes the Germans say it better than us. There is no-single word in the English language that describes taking pleasure in other people’s misfortune. And there is no better word than schadenfreude to describe the smugness of some Liverpool fans this summer.

Less than two years have passed since Philippe Coutinho swapped Merseyside for Barcelona and became the second most expensive player in history. That £145million move was a dream come true for the Brazilian, and a bitter blow to Liverpool’s hopes of regaining their place among Europe’s elite.

Fast forward to this transfer window, and Coutinho is back on the market. He has rebuffed Tottenham, who made a late move after Barcelona confirmed they will allow the midfielder to leave on loan.

Coutinho has won five trophies at the La Liga giants, amassing 21 goals and 11 assists in 76 appearances. But they are prepared to let him return to the Premier League.

Liverpool have distanced themselves from bringing Coutinho back to Anfield. Don’t mistake this for spitefulness, though, rather a reflection of how the club have grown in his absence.

Jurgen Klopp does not seem like one for schadenfreude. But he’d be forgiven for telling Coutinho I told you so.

‘Stay here and they will end up building a statue in your honour,’ Klopp told the Brazilian eight months before his departure. ‘Go somewhere else, to Barcelona, to Bayern Munich, to Real Madrid, and you will be just another player. Here you can be something more.’

His words have proved prophetic, and could serve as a warning to players tempted by bright lights and thick wallets. But his comments also underlined just how talismanic Coutinho had become at Anfield.

Liverpool signed a rough diamond when they snapped up the midfielder for only £8.5million in January 2013. When he was sold five years later, he had become the latest player – after Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling – to leave Anfield for a huge profit.

Yet his value for Liverpool in the intervening seasons was equally huge. Between his debut and final Reds appearance, Coutinho had scored 41 goals, picked up 35 assists and created 301 chances in the Premier League.

Only Daniel Sturridge (45) scored more in that period, while no one could match Coutinho for creativity. Jordan Henderson was their next most productive player when it came to assists (25) and creating chances (215).

In fact, Yaya Toure was the only midfielder in the Premier League to score more goals than Coutinho during those five years. He kept impressive company atop the assist charts in those days, too.

Mesut Ozil, David Silva, Christian Eriksen, Cesc Fabregas and Kevin De Bruyne were the only players to surpass his tally. None could match his return in front of goal. So forget the shell of a player now being portrayed in some quarters.

Coutinho is a midfielder who shone for a team that was rebuilding for much of his time in England.

‘I’m disappointed Coutinho has gone, I never thought he’d turn into the player he’s become when I first played with him,’ Jamie Carragher said at the time of his departure. ‘He’s been a great LFC player these last few years.’

‘He will be hard to replace,’ added Michael Owen, a player who, like Coutinho, knows what it’s like to leave Liverpool and watch his former side reach the Champions League final months later.

Owen was right, though. He is hard to replace and in truth Liverpool haven’t really tried.

They signed Naby Keita – who is more of an all-rounder – and Xherdan Shaqiri, who is not in the same class. But, without his main midfield lock-picker, Klopp has adapted his style of play to find creativity from elsewhere.

It’s no surprise Liverpool’s full backs, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, topped their assist charts last season.

There is a paucity of players like Coutinho, who can play from wide or through the middle, who is not really a No 10, nor a winger. There were occasional concerns over his tendency to go missing at times, but when on song, he could be devastating. Coutinho was deadliest as the most advanced player in a midfield three but his perfect position was often difficult to define.

Yet what was once a strength has arguably become his greatest weakness. It can be tough to see where he fits in at teams like Tottenham because he doesn’t necessarily fit rigidly-defined roles.

Mauricio Pochettino knows him well. The pair worked together for six months at Espanyol, where he scored five goals and picked up one assist in 16 games.

The Tottenham boss knows the quality he possesses. We all do, if only we didn’t like to forget so quickly.