News that Liverpool fans had been dreading broke on Friday afternoon – Philippe Coutinho had handed an official transfer request to the club with his sights set on a move to Barcelona.
Initially, the story was broken by Sky Sports whose sources revealed the Brazilian had sought an amicable solution to his future but after realising such conclusion could not be reached, handed in the request.
The story was dismissed by well-respected Liverpool journalists such as James Pearce and Melissa Reddy as false before they both later confirmed the player’s intentions to leave – just hours after a club statement insisted he was not for sale.
Coutinho’s decision is another huge blow to Jurgen Klopp in a summer which promised so much but has so far failed to deliver.
Reports suggested that Liverpool could smash their transfer record multiple times as Fenway Sports Group would back a summer revamp following a return to the Champions League.
Klopp identified four key areas of improvement for the transfer window – left-back, centre-back, centre-midfield and a winger.
The German also identified four players he wished to fill these voids – Mohamed Salah and Andy Robertson both signed, but moves for Virgil Van Dijk and Naby Keita have failed.
It’s worth noting that these moves were set for completion before Coutinho’s decision to leave meaning they would not have been dependent on the huge transfer fee which would be paid for his services.
Liverpool’s pursuit of Van Dijk was the first major mishap of the summer, the player was keen, the asking price was no obstacle, but an illegal approach killed the deal and left a sour taste in Southampton’s mouth.
A public apology regarding the club’s conduct was issued, and interest in the Dutchman was seemingly ended, but Van Dijk did not give up on the move to Anfield; handing in a transfer request to push the deal through.
Despite the controversy that surrounded his future, Van Dijk is still expected to complete a move to Merseyside before the end of the summer, a transfer that has become crucial if Coutinho departs for Barcelona.
Liverpool now find themselves in Southampton’s position – the player wanting to leave, handing in an official transfer request to do so but the club is still adamant that their star player will not be leaving this summer.
Klopp has continually reiterated the stance that Liverpool are not a selling club despite seeing their best players such as Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano leave the club in recent years.
Should Coutinho leave, despite the club’s insistence he would not be sold, and Liverpool fail to sign Van Dijk from a club with the same stance – it would be public relation suicide for FSG.
Coutinho has blossomed into arguably the best player at the club following his move from Inter Milan and displayed his talents in a new central role during the latter stages of the season; where he was expected to feature predominantly in the new campaign.
Klopp holds the Brazilian playmaker in high regard, labelling him one of the best players he has ever worked with and the 25-year-old is a vital part of his plans to mount a Premier League title challenge this season.
The German was pleased with the club’s firm stance that Barcelona should look elsewhere and his prized asset would be available for selection this season – selling him now would ultimately undermine Klopp.
The club would have failed to land two of his primary targets in Keita and Van Dijk as well as allowing the club’s best player to leave the club despite insisting he would stay.
The response from Liverpool’s fan base is to be expected, fans are devastated at the news that Coutinho would like to depart the club, but no-one can be surprised that he is forcing the move through.
Barcelona, fresh from selling Neymar to PSG for £200m, are looking for his replacement and now have a transfer war chest to play with despite their current financial woes.
The Catalans are long-term admirers of Coutinho, who has been touted as a future replacement for Andres Iniesta, knowing that a move to Spain is usually too hard to turn down for South American players.
It is well documented that Coutinho would love to go to Barca and despite maintaining he would not be leaving, the club should have had a contingency plan in place should he force the club’s hand as he did on Friday.
Not only have Liverpool not prepared for the worst-case scenario with Coutinho, but there also seems to be a lack of alternative transfer targets lined up following rejected offers from Southampton and RB Leipzig for Van Dijk and Keita.
Southampton’s refusal to sell has led to Klopp claiming he has is happy with his current centre-backs despite identifying a new defender as a key area of improvement earlier in the summer.
Leipzig’s refusal to sell has led to Liverpool’s interest being put on hold until next summer when his £48m release clause is activated but also when other big clubs are likely to be frontrunners for his signature.
The club had all summer to line up potential targets if the number one choice was not to be available, which has proved to the be the case, and with just two weeks left in the window – how could they possibly replace Coutinho’s quality and importance to the team?
Selling him now wouldn’t just represent a loss of quality to the squad, it would represent a planning disaster and would mean a summer filled with so much optimism ended sombrely.
Considering how much Liverpool’s Premier League rivals have strengthened this summer, selling Coutinho without an adequate replacement and further quality additions to the squad would be two steps back for the club.
Once again Liverpool would have come full circle – selling their best player to face another season of rebuilding rather than strengthening and building on last season’s achievements.
Not only would Liverpool face an uphill task next season considering the size of the squad and the hectic schedule that would be expected with Champions League qualification, but FSG would have lost the support of the fans.
The relationship with the American owners is already frosty, with many of the Anfield faithful under the impression that they are more interested in making money from the club rather than delivering trophies.
We now enter a truly defining period for FSG – a chance for the American owners to prove to the fans they are here for the long haul and value glory over money.
Coutinho could stay, Van Dijk and further additions could arrive before the window closes and the mood on Merseyside would no doubt be lifted, the air of optimism would return to Anfield.
Get it wrong, however; it could prove to be the final nail in the coffin for Fenway Sports Group.
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