While the red half of Merseyside rejoiced, Philippe Coutinho will have reacted to Liverpool’s title win on Thursday with mixed emotions.
The Brazilian would have cracked a smile watching his former teammates – with whom he had suffered heartbreak with in the past – finally end the club’s 30 year wait for a top flight crown, but he must have also been wondering how his career might have turned out differently if he had not agitated for a move to Barcelona in 2018.
Since the diminutive midfielder departed Anfield, the Reds have soared to unimaginable heights, winning a Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Club World and now, a Premier League title. Meanwhile, Coutinho’s career has stagnated.
His dream move to the Camp Nou has been closer to a nightmare of Freddy Krueger like proportion. Fractious relationships, struggles to fit into Ernesto Valverde’s system and a meagre return of goals and assists have characterised Coutinho’s time at Barça so far.
He sought refuge in the beer-soaked climes of Bavaria this season and despite the first green shoots of a Coutinho revival starting to show at Bayern Munich, Die Roten have deciding against bringing him in on a permanent deal.
This means that the Brazilian has been forced to return to Barcelona with his tail between his legs. The club that Coutinho dreamt of playing for as a boy no longer want him, even though he is in his prime years.
His wages are a hefty roadblock for any future, potential sale as well. Bayern were paying all of Coutinho’s £240k-per-week salary during his spell at the Allianz Arena, money that clubs will surely be incapable of splashing in a post-COVID-19 transfer market.
But wait, who’s that, riding in on a white horse ready to save Coutinho from his Barcelona hell. It’s…Mikel Arteta?!
Yes, the latest report doing the rounds on the prolific Coutinho rumour mill is that Arsenal are interested in taking the former Inter man on loan next season.
On the surface, the pair seem like a good fit. Both are fallen footballing giants, yearning for the glory days of yesteryear. The duo teaming up to prove their doubters wrong would make for a compelling story, but just how likely is it that Coutinho would be a hit at the Emirates Stadium?
He’d certainly counteract the creativity vacuum that is currently haunting the Gunners. With Mesut Ozil spending more time under an umbrella than on the pitch recently and no midfielder racking up more than two assists all season, a player of Coutinho’s vision and poise would be very welcome.
He’d also thrive in the fast-paced attacking team that Arteta seems to be creating – or at least attempting to create – in north London. Coutinho showcased the best form of his career playing a similar style on Merseyside and when he did feature for Bayern he showed glimpses of still being devastating in transition.
All good so far.
One sticking point could be Coutinho’s apparent inability to execute a high press. Though things have been less energetic since the Premier League’s restart, Arteta has implemented a much higher line of engagement since taking over from Unai Emery at Arsenal.
Jurgen Klopp has said that one of the reasons for allowing Coutinho to depart was that the Brazilian was never fit enough to play his heavy metal football, with its manic gegenpressing and swift, vertical movements up the pitch.
While Arteta is not in the same league as the German in terms of what he demands from his players physically, his continued omission of Mesut Ozil from the starting XI for a lax training attitude suggests that he does not defensive passengers in the squad.
Coutinho could likely deal with these rigours though. The portrayal of him as a languid, defensively disinterested playmaker is not entirely accurate. Bayern Munich simply wouldn’t have persisted with him if that had been the case.
What is likely to be a bigger stumbling block in the move is the enthusiasm of Coutinho himself. Arsenal look destined for another year outside the Champions League next season and there’s even a distinct possibility that the squad could have their Thursday nights free as well.
Despite this, Coutinho should seriously consider working with Arteta next season. He’d be the main man in a young, improving side – David Luiz and Cedric Soares aside – and it could be the ideal place for him to reclaim his status as a truly world class player.
In fact, it’s a match made in heaven.
And…if things don’t go to plan, it’s only a one year loan deal. What’s the worst that can happen? Don’t answer that actually, this is Arsenal we’re talking about.