Philippe Coutinho is still the man who defines Liverpool’s decade under FSG
For a long time, Fenway Sport Group’s transfer policy at Liverpool was a much-maligned one.
Long before record-breaking moves for the likes of Alisson Becker (£65million) and Virgil van Dijk (£75m) helped catapult the Reds back towards the elite of the world game, Anfield chiefs operated differently behind the curtain.
Rather than simply prop up the club with open chequebooks and bottomless reserves of millions, the American owners, upon their arrival on Merseyside in October 2010, had decided to utilise a ‘moneyball’ strategy that had become commonplace in baseball due to its success at Oakland Athletics under general manager Billy Beane.
The concept, in its purest form, is a novel one; unearth cheap, young talent with the potential for vast improvement, help them flourish and move them on for huge profits.
FSG‘s policy did not always find its mark at Anfield, however.
The recent history is littered with mistakes and missteps in the transfer market, but one player, more than any other, symbolises what moneyball’s success looks like in football.
Arriving for an £8million fee in January 2013, it didn’t take long for Liverpool supporters to fall in love with Philippe Coutinho.
Coutinho had struggled to impose his evident talent on proceedings at Inter Milan as a teenager. The Brazilian, who joined the Nerazurri at the age of 16 in 2008, found it tough to adapt to life in Italy after a two-year loan spell at previous club Vasco da Gama had been completed.
It was Claudio Ranieri who then loaned Coutinho to Espanyol in 2012 where he was coached by Tottenham manager Maurico Pochettino.
In Spain, the diminutive attacking midfielder began to slowly show a bewitching talent that would eventually see him sold for the highest fee ever seen in Premier League football.
His performances in La Liga attracted the attention of Brendan Rodgers, who snapped Coutinho up alongside Daniel Sturridge in January 2013 during a transfer window that would prove to be the catalyst for a Premier League title charge 18 months later.
“We’re always delighted when we get the players we go after,” said Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre at the time.
“It has been a successful transfer window for us, coming off the back of acquiring Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea and now Philippe from Inter Milan.
“I think that bodes well for us for the rest of the season and the future.”
Rumours of a move for Dutch schemer Wesley Sneijder failed to come to fruition as the 33-year-old pitched up at Galatasaray in Turkey, instead. FSG went for the younger, cheaper option. They invariably did, back then.
Coutinho’s potential was untapped. With one cap for Brazil to his name, Anfield officials were confident the attacking midfielder would add to that over time if he adapted to life in England.
This week the ECHO are running a special series of articles looking back at the key moments from the last decade for Liverpool.
Each day, there will be three new articles; one in the morning, one at lunchtime and one in the evening.
Here are some of the best bits so far…
It was a move that would prove to be a spectacular success at a time when those sorts of stories were few and far between for Liverpool’s recruitment team.
Settling into the side fairly quickly, the creative Coutinho would establish himself in Rodgers’ upwardly mobile side, scoring his first Liverpool goal in a 5-0 win over Swansea around a month after his arrival.
On his Anfield debut, the Selecao star confidently dispatched the Reds’ second on an afternoon that hinted at what an exciting attacking outfit – one that would score 110 times the season following, no less – was capable of.
The boy from Rio would more than play his part for Rodgers’ Reds as they finished runners-up to Manchester City in 2013/14. The highlight of Coutinho’s campaign came when he wrapped home a crucial winner against City in a 3-2 victory at Anfield.
Eventually, Coutinho’s influence and importance to Liverpool would grow as Luis Suarez’s exit, Sturridge’s ongoing injuries and Steven Gerrard’s ageing left the door ajar for a new talisman.
It would be one he embraced, as he developed into a world-class attacking midfielder, flourishing at international level alongside the golden boy of Brazilian football, Neymar.
By the time Jurgen Klopp had placed his fingerprints all over the Liverpool squad, Coutinho was the creator-in-chief, the locksmith tasked with picking apart the most stubborn and well-drilled of defences.
A piece of brilliance midway through Liverpool’s visit to Manchester United in the Europa League was a jaw-dropping moment of class that effectively tipped the tie in favour of the Reds in March 2016.
Picking the ball up on the left, and with his team a goal down, Coutinho glided past the United defence before scooping a finish over David de Gea to take the air out of the Red Devils’ fightback from their 2-0 first-leg deficit.
It was a moment that gave Liverpool supporters their most memorable St Patrick’s Day in many a year as the Reds beat their arch-rivals to go through to the quarter-finals.
His performances under Klopp would eventually gain worldwide recognition and Barcelona, perhaps inevitably, came knocking at the door.
Bids of £72m, £90m and £118m were all turned down as Anfield chiefs successfully fought tooth and nail to keep hold of the jewel in their crown in the summer of 2017.
A transfer request on the eve of the 2017/18 season was ill-advised and horribly timed, but he stayed put, turning in some of his finest displays in a Red shirt in the final months of his Liverpool career.
“Stay here and they will end up building a statue in your honour,” Klopp told the Brazilian in May 2017. It would be an offer Coutinho would pass up, moving on to Barca in January 2018 for a truly astronomical £142million. Some mark up on that £8m five years earlier.
No statues will ever be built in Coutinho’s name at Anfield, but nearly two years on from his exit, the 27-year-old remains the poster-boy for a bygone era under FSG.