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It may not be possible to feel sorry for someone who got to rake in tens of millions of dollars to live in Barcelona (with a brief sojourn to Munich) and not have to do much. And certainly Liverpool supporters won’t have any sympathy for Philippe Coutinho given the way he exited Anfield for the Nou Camp in 2018.
But Coutinho becoming perhaps the prime symbol of Barcelona’s mismanagement, largesse, and silliness isn’t really Coutinho’s fault. At least not entirely. It wasn’t Coutinho’s fault that Barca were so desperate to spend the money that they’d gotten from PSG for Neymar. It wasn’t Coutinho’s fault that Ousmane Dembélé, the other splurge from the Neymar bounty, had already proven to be perma-crocked by the time Coutinho even showed up. And it wasn’t Coutinho’s fault that he took what was a promotion, and it was back then, to play for a team that already had a ball-dominant player that made his skills redundant. In fact, they had THE ball dominant player in Lionel Messi. Imagine signing Russell Westbrook, in his prime, to be an off-the-ball screener and shooter. It was about as bad of a fit as possible.
It’s getting pretty small in the rearview now, but it was only four years ago that Coutinho was one of the Premier League’s most exciting midfielders. But Liverpool were geared for him, as he spent his best season playing in a forward line with Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino happy to play off of him. And a half-season playing behind those two and Mo Salah, all making runs for him to thread passes to or create space for his occasionally unconscionable shot selection. Liverpool also either surrounded or backed up Coutinho with an industrious midfield that could let him improvise and float while covering for him.
It didn’t help Coutinho’s rep that, when he left Liverpool, they used the cash to sign Virgil van Dijk immediately, watched him become maybe the best defender in the world, and then mosey to consecutive Champions League finals and a Premier League title. Nor did it help that Jurgen Klopp and the Liverpool braintrust never really felt the…