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Coutinho & Liverpool: From Hero Of The Kop To 'Just Another Player'

Coutinho & Liverpool: From Hero Of The Kop To 'Just Another Player'
By Gary Connaughton

"Stay here and they will end up building a statue in your honour.

"Go somewhere else, to Barcelona, to Bayern Munich, to Real Madrid, and you will be just another player. Here you can be something more."

After one of the greatest comebacks in the history of European football, Liverpool are through to the Champions League final. Even for one of the most decorated clubs in the game, this was one of their greatest nights.

While nothing is won yet, this side are well on their way to etching their place into the packed history books of Liverpool. Far from being just another group of players, they are already something more to the Anfield faithful.

Of course, the above quote from Jurgen Klopp was directed at one of his players, one that was on the pitch for last night's historic game. But rather than bask in the glory of an unlikely comeback, he will find himself on the wrong side of history.

Philippe Coutinho was the darling of The Kop during his five year stay at Liverpool. He grew into one of the best players in the Premier League, and was viewed by many as the perfect example of the impact Jurgen Klopp could have on a squad.

Flattering to deceive at times prior to the German's arrival, he had grown into a rising star on the global stage. The fact that this coincided with Liverpool's return to prominence was no coincidence.

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It seemed the two were set to grow together, but the Brazilian had other ideas. Once Barcelona showed interest in bringing him to the Camp Nou, he made his desire to leave known. He complained of niggling injuries in order to avoid taking to the pitch, attempting to force through a move.

When he was forced to stay put in the summer of 2017, his mysterious back injury soon healed. One got the feeling that a similar situation could arise once again a few months down the road, and that is exactly what happened.

This time Coutinho got his wish. He would move to La Liga for a fee of £144m in January 2018, becoming the second most expensive player of all time.

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While it was assumed he would be a roaring success at Barcelona, it casted doubts over the long-term viability of Jurgen Klopp's project at Anfield. How could Liverpool expect to return to football's top table if they were unable to retain their best players?

One of those parties would indeed go on to climb new heights, while the other would struggle. However, it was the diminutive playmaker that would struggle, while his former side climbed to new heights.

Perhaps Klopp's prediction of Coutinho becoming 'just another player' at Barcelona has not proven to be correct. If anything, his situation is worse. His performances have not reached anywhere near the level his new club would have hoped for, something that has not gone unnoticed by the Camp Nou faithful.

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Far from being 'just another player', he seems to be the source of blame whenever things do not go to plan for his side. He has been booed, jeered, and generally maligned by a large section of their support.

His celebration after his goal against Manchester United was telling. Rather than celebrate with a smile as he had done so often at Liverpool, he cupped his ear in a clear message to the Barcelona fans.

Some of this has not been the fault of Coutinho. Ernesto Valverde has not figured out how to best utilise the Brazilian. In both legs against Liverpool, he was the first man to make way when things went against his side.

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If Coutinho had grown used to an unwelcoming atmosphere in his home stadium, last night's game surely served as a timely reminder of all he gave up only 16 months ago. Despite a three goal deficit, and an almost insurmountable mountain to climb, Anfield was rocking from the off.

The atmosphere fuelled an energetic and passionate performance from the Liverpool team, and we all know how the game would ultimately play out. At a time when Coutinho can feel the weight of the world on his shoulders every time he takes to the pitch, The Reds thrive under the watchful eyes of their supporters.

The long-term picture for Coutinho and his former team are also vastly different.

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If Liverpool's journey to last year's Champions League final was driven by emotion and a sense of 'now or never', there was no such feeling's around their run this season. This is a side built to be perennial contenders, and much of that is fuelled by the sale of Philippe Coutinho.

The money recouped for their former number 10 directly contributed to the signings of Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker and Fabinho, three players who have had a major say in their successes this season.

The team also has more balance. No longer having to fit Coutinho into the same side as the current front three, Jurgen Klopp has constructed a midfield perfectly designed to implement his footballing philosophy.

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Compare this to Coutinho's current predicament. Contrary to what most had expected, he does not seem an ideal fit in Barcelona. There is every chance he will leave the club in the not too distant future, even as early as this summer.

Where does he go from there? Instead of being one of the key players on one of the best teams in Europe, he looks set to be just another player to be chewed up and spit out by Barcelona.

While Liverpool should be a major contender on both domestic and European fronts in the coming seasons, Philippe Coutinho's career is in flux. It is something few could have predicted just one year ago.

"Stay here and they will end up building a statue in your honour.

"Go somewhere else, to Barcelona, to Bayern Munich, to Real Madrid, and you will be just another player. Here you can be something more."

Maybe the grass isn't always greener on the other side, just ask Philippe Coutinho.

SEE ALSO: Niall Quinn Believes It May Be Time For Barca To Move On From Messi

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