It was always likely to come at some stage, but news broke on Wednesday night that Barcelona had returned to the table in the hope of leaving with Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho.
As was the case with the initial offer of €80m, the new €100m bid was flatly rejected by the Premier League club with the same message attached: he’s not for sale, please don’t waste your time or ours.
History suggests that Barca will return with another higher offer, and another, under the growing assumption that eventually a threshold will be reached whereby Liverpool simply can’t say no to their lucrative offer and Coutinho will be a Barcelona player by close of business on deadline day.
However, what Barcelona don’t seem to realise (or maybe they do and they’re just persevering regardless) is that this isn’t a negotiating tactic from Liverpool, a ploy by the Reds to exert more of that €222m windfall the Spanish side received from Neymar’s sale last week. In Liverpool’s eyes, no really does mean no. Their natural arrogance may lead them to believe that Liverpool will have to cave eventually but there’s been nothing so far to suggest that will happen.
In a pursuit like this one, timing is everything. Had Barcelona come to Liverpool in June or July, it could have been different. With multiple weeks of the transfer window remaining, Jurgen Klopp may have been more confident of replacing him to the best of his ability (though would still have been loath to lose him) but not with so little time remaining. What are Liverpool supposed to do with a cheque for €120m and little hope of reinvesting it wisely before September?
Even if the two clubs had agreed a fee some time ago, Liverpool fans would be so pessimistic that Coutinho would be adequately replaced that owners Fenway Sports Group could still have had a riot on their hands. Past experiences have taught them that the club don’t replace star players very well, and the departures of Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez (and their replacements Alberto Aquilani, Andy Carroll and Mario Balotelli) only served to heighten that belief that the money would be useless as it would be squandered.
The irony of Barcelona looking for Coutinho to replace Neymar (assuming he’d be part of that front three and not deeper) is that the now-departed forward would have ordinarily have been utilised by Barca to entice the former Inter man to Camp Nou, an international teammate having a word in Coutinho’s ear selling the La Liga and Champions League dream to him.
With Neymar and Dani Alves gone, there are no other prominent Brazilian internationals to convince the 25-year-old to force Liverpool’s hand and plead with them to allow him to leave Anfield.
The Brazilian media, meanwhile, are desperate to get this deal over the line – the commercial benefits to them of Coutinho joining Barca would be massive – but just because they (and the likes of Sport and Mundo Deportivo) shout loudly from the rooftops that a deal is “hours away from completion,” doesn’t make it so.
In fact, unless Coutinho pushes for it, then nothing will happen (and even at this late stage of the window there’s a decent chance it’s already too late for that) and he will be staying where it is. He would like to move, that much has been made clear, but he’s not prepared to burn bridges to make it happen.
Their only hope is that with the window slowly closing then he might start to get a bit antsy, but nothing in his character up until now suggests that he will do that.
Sooner or later, Barcelona are going to have to decide whether or not to walk away from this. Just as Liverpool conceded defeat in their bid to sign RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita, Barca are facing a similar predicament. If they don’t give up soon, there’s s good chance they’ll have to face the new season with a Neymar-sized hole in their forward line. Arrogance is one thing, but good luck dealing with those fans if the bluster comes to nothing and a new forward is not brought in.
With the clock ticking, it must be time to start drawing up contingency plans. Indeed, confirmation from Dortmund that they rejected a bid for Ousmane Dembélé on Thursday suggested that priorities are perhaps being shifted. Ultimately, Dembélé may be an easier avenue to go down – Dortmund’s rhetoric suggests that they would be open to sell (albeit at a monstrously high price) while the 20-year-old has already skipped training once and looks far more amenable to forcing a move than Coutinho is.
As far as Liverpool and Klopp are concerned, the matter is closed. Barcelona may start to feel the same way soon, though it will probably be a long three weeks for all parties yet.
On this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish Football Podcast, we chat to former Bray Wanderers media officer Jillian Godsil, give our take on the ‘barstooler’ debate as well as review and preview the latest League of Ireland action.