Higher release clauses, lower agent fees, bigger egos. Liverpool’s refusal to sell Coutinho will set a powerful precedent for clubs in the transfer market.
The German word for ‘disappointment’ is enttäuschen. It is an ‘inseparable’ verb. With separable verbs, the prefix comes at the end to provide a meaning that is different to what the root verb would suggest. Inseparable verbs are oft explicit. The root verb of enttäuschen translates to ‘deceive’. Make no mistake, Jürgen Klopp ist sehr, sehr enttäuscht-ed.
The brilliant Raphael Honigstein of the Das Reboot fame – a cleverly-named book on German football’s resurrection (the title inspired by Das Boot, a movie about a German WWII submarine which rose from the craggy blue jaws of death, despite sustaining heavy damage) – is writing Klopp’s biography. He states in the book that if there was one lesson the man with a heart the size of the Black Forest learned in his all his years of management, it is the importance of squad depth.
When John W. Henry leaned over the table, Jürgen Klopp met halfway. Liverpool’s golden handshake included a promise of squad depth, but along with it came the compromise of Klopp having to muster the reserves of all his managerial talent to bring the most out of the group of players he had and reach the Champions League.
A splurge was guaranteed only once it becomes easier to attract the players and pay lesser benefits to agents (Liverpool spent more than £14m on agents’ fees to lead the 2015 Premier League list which shows total payments at £129.86m). Logistically, it made more sense. Taking on mediocre players costs more to sell. This low-risk/low-reward strategy was on full-display at Liverpool’s last few winter transfer windows.
Fast forward to the 1st of September, Liverpool are in the Champions League and Phil Coutinho wants out. While the former was expected, the latter was untimely. Having signed a five-year contract, Coutinho felt confident enough in Klopp’s vision of building a Liverpool team around him to take on Europe.
Simon Hughes of the Independent reported earlier today how Brendan Rodgers’ ego made former Liverpool Academy Director-turned-Sporting Director Pep Segura’s position untenable, causing the Spaniard to resign on-the-spot. Pep Segura, now a Barcelona sporting director, made ransacking Liverpool of its crown-jewel his holy mission.
“We know that we have to strengthen the team and that’s what we will continue to do in the coming days.
“We have to help the team. We’re close [to Coutinho and Dembele], we’re talking about the conditions but until everything is finalised, we can’t say anything else. We hope they will wear a Barca shirt.”
– Pep Segura. Barcelona General Manager to TV3, 17th August.
The assumed air of Pep Segura’s declarations regarding Coutinho, days after the FSG statement of non-cooperation undermined the Liverpool owners. The manner of sabotage advising Coutinho to make himself unavailable ahead of Liverpool’s crucial Champions League Qualifier vs Hoffenheim went beyond the Barcelona custom of player-tapping. The irreverent means used by Segura was a slap in the face to his former employers. John W. Henry would not have any of that.
‘Legacy-building’ is a key-word the Fenway Sporting Group often use in their presentations. The resuscitation of the Boston Red Sox will be a time-honoured example of that in American sporting history. Their epic swindle with former British Airways CEO, Martin Broughton (who was in charge of finding sellers for Liverpool) saved Liverpool from the clutches of liquidation. Selling Coutinho, despite being in a position of strength would have sent all the wrong signals to an already on-edge fan-base, potential players, as well as the rest of Europeans sharks, and made dust of the foundations they have stood on.
The Coutinho no-sell has set the template for Champions League clubs to subvert player power. Liverpool have been victims of top players overriding contractual obligations in recent memory. The event sets a powerful precedent. For too long the club has been bullied into selling by agents. Liverpool, like others, are now beginning to exercise the powers of a contract, a team of lawyers, and the luxury of Champions League-shaped cash-cushion.
Wittingly/unwittingly, the move has also inspired RB Leipzig and Southampton to show the same kind of savvy staunchness. The clubs are beginning to wrestle back the narrative from the middle-men (something John Barnes predicted last year). Player power will take a downturn, as will agents’ fees. Liverpool could have reported Barcelona, but refusing to do business altogether sends a far more resounding reply, that may perhaps send ripples across Europe.
Agents now more than ever, will be more inclined to set up release clauses in improved contracts, which consequently, will allow the club to negotiate a figure that comes closest to their projected valuation of the player. In the current climate of market inflation, clubs stand the chance of being well-compensated. The knock-on effect could see agent fees the buying club pays during sign-on take a proportionable dive.
The Mes Que Un Club are slipping. The Neymar faux pas has exposed Barcelona’s warty underbelly. Liverpool has grudges to hold. It wasn’t beyond Barcelona to ask Javier Mascherano to go on strike. It wasn’t beyond the Catalans giants to offer a bite-sized advice to Luis Suarez to make his position at Liverpool impossible after the World Cup. It came as little surprise when Coutinho feigned injury. The most intriguing part of the Coutinho saga will begin when the player returns.
Egos need to be swallowed, mutually. It’s upto Phil Coutinho, the player who was given the Liverpool armband days before his e-mailed transfer request, to apologise and own up. It’s also (critically) important for Klopp to put an arm around the naive young man and make him realise that Barcelona couldn’t care less about his reputation.
Barcelona merely sees Coutinho as a passive instrument of the kind of institution they represent. Its well-being is dependant on the simple arithmetics of votes, trophies, tax dollars evaded, and not sentiment. Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool is home, Josep Bartomeu’s Barcelona is a sideshow with all the cheap tricks showing.