Liverpool sold Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona almost three years ago in what a record transfer involving a British club. But it is only now that the Reds will finally get all of the money.
Coutinho was a star in Jurgen Klopp’s first two years in charge, having previously been signed for just £8.5m by Brendan Rodgers. But it was his departure and the huge fee that arguably paved the way for the success that followed, with key players like Virgil van Dijk and Alisson brought in soon after.
18 months after Coutinho left Anfield, Liverpool won the Champions League, while another year down the line the elusive Premier League title followed.
The up-front fee agreed with Barcelona is believed to have been £105m. But the deal included another £37m of add-ons that could be triggered over time, taking it to £142m in total.
The Liverpool Echo is confident that all the add-ons, which were largely appearance-based, have now been triggered as of Coutinho’s 90th game for the Catalans. That means Liverpool will receive the full £142m from Barca and should be expecting the final payment of £4.4m soon.
For Barcelona, that £142m has not represented value for money in the slightest.
Coutinho actually made a decent start when he first arrived at Camp Nou midway through the 2017/18 season, getting 13 goals and assists in 18 La Liga appearances as Barca won the title. He also wasn’t eligible for the infamous Champions League collapse against Roma and bore no responsibility for that catastrophe.
But even though Barcelona were again La Liga champions in 2018/19, the first full season brought significant challenges for the Brazilian. He only made seven goal contributions in the league, five of which were before the end of October. Towards the end of the campaign, his long-term future looked increasingly uncertain and even potentially untenable.
During that time, Coutinho also faced his former club in the Champions League semi-finals, being pulled after only an hour of each leg and being on the receiving end of the iconic 4-0 defeat at Anfield to complete Liverpool’s aggregate comeback.
Barca no longer wanted Coutinho by the summer of 2019, only 18 months after committing to the £142m transfer from Liverpool. They eventually managed to offload him on loan to Bayern Munich for a fee of €8.5m, although it didn’t offer the fresh start the player hoped for.
His time at Bayern was average in a very good team where competition for places was rife. There were occasions when he was on form, notably getting a hat-trick and two assists in a 6-1 thrashing of Werder Bremen, a brace in a 6-0 win over Hoffenheim and other sporadic performances of note.
But Coutinho missed most of the Bundesliga’s summer restart following the enforced coronavirus pause because of an ankle injury. And, although he started most games in the Champions League group stage, he was only a substitute in the latter rounds as Bayern really turned it on.
Coutinho scored twice against Barcelona in an infamous 8-2 annihilation and did appear in the final against Paris Saint-Germain for the last 22 minutes. But he certainly couldn’t claim to have played an active role in the knockout stages, despite walking away with a winner’s medal.
Unsurprisingly, Bayern declined their €120m option to make the transfer permanent.
Major shifts at Barcelona and the lack of a market to sell him on have given Coutinho the chance of a clean slate in 2020/21. But the club is in crisis and this is the worst Barca team in a generation. He has only started just over half the games in La Liga and was benched for this week’s win over Real Valladolid following a fairly anonymous performance in a 2-2 draw with Valencia previously.
Barca are fifth in the table as it stands, are way off the pace in the title race and face a serious battle just to finish in the top four and ensure they qualify for next season’s Champions League. That Coutinho cannot command a regular place in such a poor Barca team by the club’s high standards is a rather damning indictment of the level he has fallen to since 2018.
Coutinho has won three league titles, the Champions League and two national cups to his name since leaving Liverpool, which is actually more than the Reds have won over the same period. But he can’t say his time since leaving Anfield has been a success because he hasn't been a leading man, nor can Barca now that they are finally liable to pay the final part of the full £142m transfer fee.