We all laughed and cried together at every unpredictable twist during the summer’s preeminent melodrama known as NeyWatch, and we were sad to see it end. Luckily for us, that saga was such a hit that it has led to a spin-off series starring a couple of the same characters—namely Barcelona and Philippe Coutinho—called One Life to Liverpool. And this one is arguably even more sensational than its predecessor.
Barcelona have long been keeping tabs on Liverpool’s diminutive Brazilian creator, though their interest never amounted to much until this summer. And as said above, Coutinho actually started out as a minor character in NeyWatch. Right around the time Barcelona finally realized that Neymar was in fact very serious about possibly leaving for PSG, a frantic Barça sent Liverpool an out-of-the-blue transfer offer of £72 million in what to all appearances was a desperate attempt to sate Neymar’s desire to play with some of his Brazilian buddies at club level. Liverpool immediately rebuffed Barça’s advances, but the story wouldn’t end there.
While the headlines in the Spanish press focused on the Neymar ordeal, the Coutinho stuff never totally died down. Once Neymar was officially gone, Barcelona renewed their interest, this time seeing Coutinho more as a replacement for rather than a compliment to his departed compatriot. This was a little curious, since Liverpool had zero desire or need to sell Coutinho, nor did it seem likely that Coutinho would agitate that much for the move. From the outset, Barcelona’s chances of success seemed exceedingly slim.
But that’s not what the Spanish papers were reporting. Almost every single day since Neymar has left, there have been reports in Spain that the Coutinho-to-Barça deal was close—often times described as imminent, even mere hours away. This didn’t really make much since logically, going off Liverpool’s adamance that Coutinho was not for sale, but with so many reports saying the same thing, there had to be something there, right?
Depending on who you believed, the answer to that question was either clearly yes or clearly no. While the story in Spain was that it was only a matter of time before Coutinho was a Barça boy, the narrative in England was the exact opposite. When asked about his player’s future, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp responded every single time that he was totally confident that Coutinho was going to stay and that the club would not sell for any price. Every single Liverpool-based reporter with a solid reputation called reports that Barcelona were nearing an agreement with Liverpool complete bullshit, saying time and again that their sources at the club were dead-set against selling Coutinho or even negotiating any possible transfer fee.
During the duration of One Life to Liverpool, it has not at all been out of the ordinary—in fact it’s been the norm—to hear one story in the morning about how Coutinho would probably sign with Barcelona before the day was over; then a couple hours later to see an English report saying Barcelona hadn’t even submitted another bid yet and no matter how much money the Catalans threw at them, Liverpool planned on rejecting it out of hand; and then the war of reports continuing on back and forth for the duration of the day. NeyWatch was going one way and then the other there for a few days at the start, but this Coutinho business has changed from hour to hour literally for a couple weeks now.
This morning brought news that presumably would finally settle the matter. Reliable reports said Barcelona finally came to Liverpool with an official transfer offer of about £90 million yesterday, which Liverpool swiftly refused. Probably seeing the end of this headache on the horizon, the Reds released the following, unambiguous statement formalizing a position that everyone besides Barcelona and the Spanish media had long accepted as self-evident:
We wish to offer clarity as regards our position on a possible transfer of Philippe Coutinho.
The club’s definitive stance is that no offers for Philippe will be considered and he will remain a member of Liverpool Football Club when the summer window closes.
That should’ve been that. Instead, things got even more ridiculous.
Right on the heels of Liverpool’s statement, Sky Sports reported that Coutinho had formally submitted to Liverpool a request to sell him to Barcelona. Since the start of this ordeal, Coutinho had reportedly been very eager to make the move happen. (This, of course, makes all the sense in the world, as—and no offense to Liverpool—being a key starter for Barcelona alongside Messi and Suárez, the chosen heir to Iniesta, is exponentially more alluring than hoping to finish in the Premier League top four as a star man alongside Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino.) However, because he apparently loves it in the EPL and in Liverpool and is whole-heartedly beloved by the legions of diehard Reds fans and is arguably the best player on a very good team, Coutinho was probably a little wary of burning any bridges by throwing a public tantrum in order to force Liverpool’s hand. Sky’s report changed all that, and the move that looked like it had finally been squashed for good suddenly felt more possible than ever.
Only, maybe Sky’s report wasn’t accurate at all. Almost immediately after Sky broke the news that Coutinho had demanded to be transferred, the best-connected Liverpool reporters, like James Pearce, said the club was denying that any such request had been made. And then—if this debacle doesn’t drive home how utterly untrustworthy the vast majority of transfer reporting is, I don’t know what could—about an hour later, Pearce and reporters of his ilk said Liverpool were confirming that Coutinho had indeed emailed the club that transfer request whose existence they had just denied. A little while after that, reports were that this latest development still wouldn’t matter much because Liverpool had rejected Coutinho’s request and maintain the position that he is unsellable.
At this point, the only thing that’s clear is that nothing is clear. Coutinho definitely wants out, but Liverpool definitely don’t want him to leave. Meanwhile, Barcelona took Liverpool’s rejection of their eye-popping transfer offer yesterday as the firm denial as it was intended to be and have reportedly given up on signing the Brazilian, instead deciding to waste time on another nigh-impossible target, Tottenham’s (aka Daniel Levy’s) Christian Eriksen. Usually the desires of the player win out in these situations, and Coutinho has a strong desire to leave or else he wouldn’t have formalized his request to go. He’s also sitting out tomorrow’s EPL opener with a dubious “back” injury.
Nevertheless, Liverpool are starting from an extremely strong position of power. Selling Coutinho now would be disastrous for a team that for so long has fought to get back to the English soccer elite. Losing one of their best players this late in the window, ahead of a critical season in which they will be looking to consolidate their position as a fixture in the EPL Champions League-qualifying places and beyond, when there are no clear, attainable substitutes for him would be a huge mistake. Coutinho has to know deep down that Liverpool aren’t going to sell him right now, and that he can still do great things there this season and beyond. So he’ll probably stay, and will probably get over it.
But this is the 2017 summer transfer window. Who the fuck knows what can or will happen?