Aston Villa have agreed to sign Philippe Coutinho on loan from Barcelona with a summer option to permanently acquire the former Liverpool playmaker as he prepares to reunite with former team-mate Steven Gerrard.
While awaiting a medical and work permit, the Brazil international will see the rest of the 2021-22 campaign at Villa Park as he seeks to rediscover a professional spark that has been lost in Catalonia.
He has already played on the Premier League stage for five years at Anfield and hopes to pick up where he left off. The 29-year-old first arrived for England in the 2013 winter window, when Liverpool drew him away from the Serie A giants Inter. Coutinho quickly settled in Merseyside and became a key creative cog for the Reds under Brendan Rodgers.
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Although major silverware proved elusive, it was a productive stint with the Reds: in total, Coutinho made 201 appearances for Liverpool and scored 54 goals, while also proving a useful source of assists.
Welcome, Philippe Coutinho! ??
Aston Villa and FC Barcelona have agreed that Philippe Coutinho will spend the rest of the season on loan at Villa Park. ??
– Villa Aston (@AVFCOfficial) January 7, 2022
The efforts drew many admiring glances from afar, with the possibility of achieving a dream transfer to Barcelona in January 2018. A $ 198million transfer would come to fruition, but Coutinho struggled to maintain his high standards alongside Lionel Messi at Camp Nou. And with insignificant injuries that have proven to be problematic throughout their time at the club, Barcelona are finally ready to cut their losses and move on.
Since then, various landing spots have been discussed for him, and six Premier League teams have been reported to have expressed interest. But he hopes a once successful partnership with Gerrard in the field will bring a new lease of life again.
Coutinho’s dream turns into a nightmare
When he left the Premier League in January 2018, the Brazilian was set to establish himself as one of the best in the world. Four years later, he seeks to rebuild his career, to put the nightmare of his “dream” behind him.
Few players trade Barcelona for Aston Villa and see it as a step forward, but for Coutinho it was a much needed change.
Gerrard played with Coutinho for two and a half seasons at Liverpool and his influence in that deal is clear. Villa, 13th in the Premier League, will rightly see it as a coup, although others will adopt a more cynical posture.
Coutinho, let’s not forget, is the third most expensive player in football history. Only Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have already been transferred for more than the $ 198million Barcelona agreed with Liverpool in 2018.
He was 25 at the time, on the verge of entering his prime and was considered in Catalonia as the heir apparent to Andres Iniesta, a player both to excite fans and deliver trophies. He’s definitely won trophies – two La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey trophies and a Spanish Super Cup in Barcelona, plus a Champions League on loan with Bayern Munich in 2020 – but he didn’t. wasn’t exactly the reason why.
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Coutinho, Barcelona’s biggest signing, has just 30 total appearances for the club and 24 in the past two seasons. As Barcelona now focus on bloody youngsters like Nico, Gavi and Yusuf Demir, Coutinho has had to settle for a partial role, appearing occasionally and often ineffectively on the bench.
His place in the Brazil team has also disappeared. His last selection came in October 2020, although he was, somewhat surprisingly, called up to the squad for the November World Cup qualifiers. The likes of Lucas Paqueta, Raphinha, Antony, Vinicius Junior and Matheus Cunha, however, all figured before him; a sign of the challenge he faces if he is to win in Tite’s plans for Qatar.
Can Coutinho relaunch his career at Aston Villa?
Villa, of course, will hope to be the beneficiary and will count on Coutinho to rediscover the magic that has seen him illuminate Liverpool during his five years on Merseyside. After all, there was a reason Barcelona wanted to pay all that money for him.
Coutinho’s talent is vast, his ability to carry the ball, make assists and produce superb long-range strikes has the potential to seriously improve Gerrard’s squad, which has remained inconsistent since losing the talisman Jack. Grealish at Manchester City this summer.
“I don’t think you get a nickname as 𝗠𝗮𝗴𝗶𝗰𝗶𝗮𝗻 if you’re not a special footballer.” ??
Steven Gerrard on Philippe Coutinho, who agreed to the conditions to spend the rest of the season on loan at Villa Park, with an option to buy. ?? pic.twitter.com/BFbxhGLxkR
– Villa Aston (@AVFCOfficial) January 7, 2022
Coutinho, understandably, has been linked with a plethora of Premier League clubs before the transfer from Aston Villa. Liverpool’s name has been mentioned in just about every transfer window, although the Reds’ position has always been the same: no interest, no chance of returning to Anfield, even though Jurgen Klopp & Co gave him plenty of importance.
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He made more than 200 appearances for the Reds, scoring 54 goals, but fans also remember how he sought to organize this transfer to Barca, the transfer request on the eve of the 2017-18 season and of the curious “back injury” that held him out for weeks after Liverpool refused to sell.
Klopp’s team improved after he left. The fees received for Coutinho effectively paid for the arrivals of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker, who would be key players as Liverpool became European, World and ultimately Premier League champions. They might have mourned his departure, but they didn’t miss him.
We imagine there will be a lot of bottlenecks once Coutinho gets down to work for Villa. Fans, pundits and observers will want to see how much those four years at Barcelona have taken away from the player and whether Gerrard can be the one to unleash this rich potential again.
If he can, Villa may have managed to sign the window. But that’s a big if.