How sale of Coutinho sparked Liverpool’s title charge

Klopp’s unpopular decision has proved a masterstroke

In Summary

• Coutinho helped Liverpool economically and in their pursuit of Alisson

• Barcelona was always Coutinho dream, as he told Klopp during a pre-season tour to Hong Kong when the first offer came 

Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho vies for the ball with Manchester United's Paul Pogba
Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho vies for the ball with Manchester United's Paul Pogba
Image: / REUTERS

It was late December in 2017 and Jurgen Klopp asked himself three questions that would lead to the biggest decision of his Liverpool career.

Philippe Coutinho had been instrumental in firing Liverpool into the Champions League knockout phase, not least when he scored a hat-trick in a 7-0 thrashing of Spartak Moscow, but all was not well behind the scenes. Barcelona had come into view and the Brazilian’s head had turned.

Liverpool had seen off Barcelona three times during the previous transfer window and rejected a written transfer request from Coutinho. The last thing they wanted was to lose a player of such class.

Klopp considered his options. Did it make sense to keep an unhappy player? No. Did Klopp believe he could still use him? No. Would Coutinho be able to help Liverpool if a fourth Barcelona bid was rejected? No. Armed with those answers, Klopp knew what his club had to do. The decision was not going to be popular but so much of that saga showed how Liverpool’s image had changed.

When Klopp let it be known he was happy for Coutinho to be sold, he, Michael Edwards, the club’s sporting director, and Mike Gordon, the president of Fenway Sports Group, were determined to send a message that they would not be pushed around.

Barcelona had taken their players before but Javier Mascherano (£20million) and Luis Suarez (£75m) went on to new levels and left Liverpool looking like they had been short-changed. This was never going to happen with Coutinho.

Edwards not only squeezed £146m from Barcelona — the third biggest transfer fee in history — but got them to agree to a £100m premium if they were to sign another Liverpool player before summer 2020. For example, if they wanted to buy Virgil van Dijk, who would now cost more than £120m, Barcelona would have to pay £220m.

Liverpool, who face Barcelona in their second consecutive Champions League semi-final and are pushing to win the Premier League, have thrived without the man they called the ‘Magician’. Any sense of loss was quickly tempered by the fact that Van Dijk has been faultless, and Alisson, the Brazilian goalkeeper, and his midfield compatriot Fabinho have been terrific. Liverpool’s business with the riches they received has been impeccable.

Coutinho helped Liverpool economically and in their pursuit of Alisson, whose last-minute save in the final group game against Napoli last December was one of the defining moments of their campaign.

“He spoke highly of Jurgen and he spoke about the players,” Alisson revealed shortly after his £64.6m move from Roma. “He said there is no vanity in the squad but it’s a very ambitious squad with a strong desire to win. Our wives spoke to each other and they (the Coutinhos) said they had a great time living in Liverpool and were very happy. What Coutinho told me added to what I had already witnessed playing here at Anfield and it all came together and made sense.”

You have to wonder, though, what is going through Coutinho’s mind. He wanted to leave to win trophies and, so far, that has been the case. He starred in the final of the Copa del Rey last May, when Sevilla were thrashed 5-0, and Barcelona are on course to run away with La Liga this year.

Barcelona was always his dream, as he told Klopp during a pre-season tour to Hong Kong when the first offer came — but fantasy and reality do not always tally and his ill-judged celebration after scoring against Manchester United showed all is not as it should be. Standing with his fingers in his ears, here was a riposte to those who have criticised him.

“Great goal, ugly celebration” was the headline in Wednesday’s Diario Sport, a further indication that Coutinho has failed to win all hearts and minds. Should he put his old club to the sword perhaps that will change. You can be sure, however, that Klopp will have a plan to deal with Coutinho. If it works as well as his plan in December 2017, Liverpool will be a step closer to another Champions League final.