How Phil Coutinho Paid and Played His Way To Barcelona – An Earnest Investigation

Testes shouldn’t really tie in with the Old Testament and Phil Coutinho’s protracted move to Barcelona, but they do. Here’s an authoritative investigation in the spirit of Oscar Wilde.

How Phil Coutinho Played and Paid His Way To Barcelona - An Authoritative Investigation

 

The way you flirt with Gwendolen is almost as bad as how Gwendolen flirts with you. – Algy (Earnest no. 2) to Jack (Earnest no. 1), The Importance of Being Earnest

Act 1 – Arse-over-tilt

In the beginning, there is a transfer request and Liverpool’s start-of-season-preparations go arse-over-tilt.

It’s September 1, 2017, and Liverpool are in the Champions League, ready to take on Europe and to be the perennial underdogs. Again. It is at this perfect moment that Phil Coutinho, whom Jurgen Klopp planned to build his team around on grounds of mutual understanding, wants out. Oomph.

Liverpool aren’t foreign to sabotage. It isn’t beyond Barcelona to ask Javier Mascherano to go on strike. It isn’t beyond the Catalan giants to offer Suarez the bite-sized advice to make his position at Liverpool impossible after the World Cup. And so, it comes as little surprise when Coutinho feigns injury ahead of Liverpool’s crucial Champions League Qualifier vs Hoffenheim.

The Phantom of Liverpool’s Soap Opera, naturally, is an old cast member. Pep Segura, then-Barca sporting director, is a former Liverpool academy director, and one among many burned by Brendan Rodgers’s inflammable ego. Segura is out there behind the scenes, dropping sandbags, opening trapdoors, and fanning flames in the media.

‘Trust’ between the two parties then is merely a five-letter-word and a 5-year-contract just another bog roll.

But what Barcelona don’t account for is a defiant double-act: the superego of a scorned owner, John W Henry, and the man-management skills of a certain Jurgen Klopp.

Act 2 – Phil Coutinho and the Importance of Being Earnest

When The Importance of Being Earnest was adapted for the stage of St. James’s Theatre in London, in 1895, Oscar Wilde explicitly hoped that it carried none of the social messages that other plays of the days used to wobble with. Poor sod. Little did he know that critics find meaning in everything. Even in an unintended fart (you happen to be reading one of them).

‘I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.’ – Cecily to the Earnest no.2

It was a story of men leading double-lives in order to woo their lovers, Cecily and Gwendolen, under the assumed persona of Earnest. Both Jack and Algy later realise in the course of the play, that only through assuming an earnest character can they downplay the deception and consummate their respective marriages. The story of Coutinho is not dissimilar. The first reaction to Coutinho’s deception was one more of bewilderment than fury.

Every magic trick consists of 3 parts. The pledge, the turn and the prestige. This little magician has no prestige. – Ashwin Karthik (he’s a mate of mine)

Liverpool took in the fuzzy-haired, skinny bloke in from Inter’s oblivion, and filled his futsal frame and mind up with grown-up football. Last summer, he showed a darker aspect to his usual sunny-as-Rio disposition.

He wasn’t everybody’s Lil’ Phil anymore. The lad Liverpool fans used to call Magico was lacking the prestige. Back scans came back negative. Liverpool played along until he assisted and scored a goal for Brazil in the following week, revealing the sleight of hand that damned him to a 4-month long road to redemption.

It was Jurgen Klopp who offered him a shot at it; Coutinho back-heeled it into the net. Both benefitted.

7 goals, 4 assists, captaining Liverpool in a competitive match, scoring his first Liverpool hat-trick, making his 150th Premier League and 200th appearance for Liverpool, and notching his 50th career league goal. All this in December alone.

Cynics argued these displays were him simply extending his period of courtship with Barcelona, romantics had the opinion that it was his way of apologising. All, however, agreed on the inevitable, that December was the last mile and he was putting in his all.

“After we had all been resigned to his loss, his sudden return seems to be peculiarly distressing” – Miss Prism on Earnest no. 2’s return from the dead

The takeaway from this episode was that Coutinho, like a lot of other football wantaways, could have behaved worse, but didn’t. The miserable among the cynics wished he did so they could have held an undying grudge.

Act 3 – Klopp’s Cheeky One-Two

On Sunday, 7th of January, 2018, Phil Coutinho watched his new team beat Levante 3-0 on a TV the size of a smallish-big table from the Reina Sofia hotel suite in Barcelona.

He was surrounded by his family and friends – two factors that can make even the meekest man move. In Coutinho’s case, his family, brothers Cristiano and Leandro, were also his brokers.

The 3rd factor was Kia Joorabchian, the super-agent, who has affected some of the biggest moves in football, including Robinho and David Luiz.

Downstairs, Mikael Silvestre, the United defender-turned-Joorabchian’s-man, exchanged pleasantries with the Coutinho brothers in the hotel lobby and made the requests of his client known to the concierge.

The concierge was instructed to put everything on President Bartomeu’s tab. No expense was spared to make Barcelona’s newest number 14 feel at home.

Why?

Coutinho is essentially seen as a one-man-disposal-unit for the Barca President’s ticking-bomb-of-a-tenure.

Creaking at 63% of total revenue generated, Barcelona’s wage-bill was the most voluminous in Europe, and indeed the world. And that was before the flurry of contract renewals which followed a summer of incompetence in the transfer market.

What started as a bid to buy PSG’s playmaker, Marco Verratti, ended up as the sale of Neymar to PSG for  £198 million and the start of a hyperinflated transfer window.

A Barcelona director confessed in September that the board would have had to resign on the grounds of ‘financial irresponsibility’, if had they spent €300 million on two players to accommodate the loss of Neymar.

This is where Jurgen Klopp’s German sense of schadenfreude and humour prevailed and made the Coutinho summer move untenable.

Jurgen Klopp’s biographer, Raphael Honigstein, reveals: calling up good friend and Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, Klopp assured his former employer that Coutinho was not for sale. This, in turn, allowed Dortmund to drive the asking price for Barca target 20-year-old Ousmane Dembele up to £105 million and eat into the coffers of Barca’s treasure chest for the Brazilian.

But it would hardly have been a really serious engagement if it hadn’t been broken off at least once. – Cecily on breaking up with Ernest no. 2

It was a bit like how the Marquess of Queensberry, whose son Lord Alfred Douglas was Oscar Wilde’s lover, planned to present the writer with a bouquet of rotten vegetables and disrupt the show. The difference is, Jurgen’s plan worked, but only for a while.

Fast forward four months. As January approached, Liverpool met Barcelona’s requests to lower the price with indifference. This was the point when Coutinho, as reported by Mundo Deportivo, figuratively chucked his wallet onto the table.

Act 4 – Putting Money Where The Mouths Are

On the aftermath the Coutinho transfer, Football Paradise spoke to Spanish journalist Rafael Hernandez. He throws light on the speculation surrounding the financial health of FC Barcelona.

“Even though the Neymar signing brought a massive cash injection, Barcelona’s financial situation is far from optimal,” Raf said. “The club has to clean up its wage bill with sales, or it could spell trouble for the current board, as the club’s internal laws state there are limits on how much can be spent, an effort to avoid abusive amounts of debt piling up.

“Main issue at hand is the stadium and surroundings reforms that could cost up to 800 m euros; the club is spending massively right now, and combined with the money used on the reforms, it could cripple the club financially in the future much like the original Camp Nou did.”

This provides another clue to Barcelona’s reluctance to pursue a solution last summer.

On the day of the player presentation, Vice President Mestre acknowledged in the media that the price of the deal dropped, but his acknowledgement was repeated for effect and thus the tone, defensive.

“The reduction was important to allow us to bid, and for as long as Oscar Grau, who is responsible [for finances], told us it was possible we carried on.”

On the day before the reveal, Mundo Deportivo, the leading Catalan paper, ran this headline –  TOP SECRET: FINAL CUT OF THE COUTINHO RECORD. Coutinho pays 15 million euros out of his pocket to hasten the transfer.

This report, firstly, brought to light the high-level of collaboration between Barcelona’s jersey-makers Nike (who would stand to benefit from the transfer due to sales) and Coutinho. And secondly, brings into question whether his thanks to Liverpool for lowering the price was not only misplaced but also a PR move to assuage Barcelona supporters.

“Liverpool did everything they could to keep me and tried to make me stay, but they understood that this was my dream.” – Coutinho, 8th January, 2018

While this alleged collusion kicks every Fairplay ruling in the crotch, it shows the realities of modern football and harbingers the dawn of the superclub.

A superclub is one that projects its revenues over a billion. With Barca’s turnover set to increase again this season, breaking the $900 million, they are likely to be the first across the mark.

“This is the era of the super clubs, and even if this board is proven to be incompetent time and time again, these institutions have been so strong they might just storm it. We’re not too far from the super clubs to be making 1bn euros yearly,” Raf clarified.

Bamboozled, I asked, so, you’re saying even in dire straits, the banks may bail Barca out if necessary?

“Yes, banks will definitely bail the club out if they need it, it would be good debt for them,” he confirmed.

Bloody hell. It’s football that will smash communism.

Act 5 – A Matter of Legacy

“Other mothers also have handsome sons who can kick a ball around. – A quote attributed to Klopp’s response to Mario Götze’s transfer to Bayern. He probably didn’t say it but he just as well might have.

In his first press conference as a Barcelona player, Coutinho was bubbling with praise for Jurgen Klopp for giving him a shot at his final flourish at Liverpool. It was a matter of the Brazilian’s legacy. Footballers and football clubs live and die by it.

Barcelona’s spine is ageing, and it will soon be cracking with players on the wrong side of 30. In Camp Nou, the signings of Dembele and Coutinho are symbolic and usher hope and good PR into President Bartomeu’s reign.

On the footballing side of things, Coutinho was brought in to replace Andres Iniesta. Good luck with that.

This was a legacy transfer for Liverpool too. Phil Coutinho’s move out means a move in the opposite direction, and Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp can ill-afford to do another Ciro Immobile.

Failing to replace 20-goal-a-season-striker Robert Lewandowski aptly was one of the three strikes Jurgen marked against himself at Dortmund. Ciro Immobile, the Italian deadshot, kept firing blanks.

Phil Coutinho’s replacement may define the legacy Klopp leaves at Anfield. Thankfully, the manager has a more-than-competent transfer track-record. Nuri Sahin for Ilkay Gündoğan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Mario Götze are just the tip of the moneyball.

Numbers aside, moneyball also requires an element of timing. Liverpool writer, Rob Gutmann notes losing Coutinho does deplete the club’s depth, but also that the second half of Liverpool’s season is less demanding.

“To date, Liverpool played 32 games in 146 days with 3 international breaks. To play (likely estimate) 25 in 127 days. Which means a game every 5 days vs game every 4 days. The workload is 20%, meaning less rotation required.”

“Divorces are made in heaven.” – Algy, Earnest no. 2

The sheer weight of expectation and legacy-value attached to Coutinho’s replacement and that acute sense of timing may make Jurgen Klopp wait until the summer to hedge his bets.

To anyone who begs to differ, Jurgen could mention “Fernando Torres”, pause a little, then say “Andy Carroll” to drive the point home.

Final act – Testes and Testaments

Ah! that is clearly a metaphysical speculation, and like most metaphysical speculations, has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them. – Gwendolen to Earnest no. 1

The successful opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest marked the climax of Wilde’s career but also heralded his downfall. His notoriety caused the play, despite its early success, to be closed after 86 performances. Which just goes to show that the fickleness of fate can’t be staved off just by being earnest.

Liverpool’s maestro Coutinho will be resigned to read off Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez’s sheet music. It is conjecture at this point whether that will undermine his legacy.

Oh, it’s very romantic to be in love. But there’s nothing romantic about a definite proposal. The whole excitement is over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. – Algy, Earnest no. 2

But what we know for sure is this: testicles shouldn’t really tie in with the Old Testament and Coutinho’s protracted move to Barcelona, but they do.

In the old book of the Genesis, the sweary-sweaty-soft bits were called Yarek in Hebrew. In the olden days, witnesses testified their sincerity with their hands on their family jewels. Testes, therefore, comes from the same word root as testify, and from there comes the word testament (so says etymologist Mark Forsyth).

If the move succeeds, history will show that good Catholic, Phil Coutinho, El Magico, pulled a rabbit out of his hat based on three core belief-systems: his family, his faith and his balls.

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Srijandeep Das

Managing Editor, journalist, writer.