Ask any Liverpool fan to give an estimated valuation of each member of the current playing squad heading into Jurgen Klopp’s first full season as manager, and the answers would be varied. On Monday, the CIES Football Observatory published a report ‘revealing’ the transfer values of hundreds of players around Europe. The findings were based on position, age, contract and, of course, performance. Following that criteria, few would agree that 11 Liverpool players would command higher transfer fees than Daniel Sturridge (£12.14m). And how many would rank Alberto Moreno (£19.81m) and Jordon Ibe (£23.73m) among the club’s five most valuable commodities?
The Football Observatory’s top three were rather more accurate. Roberto Firmino enjoyed a stellar debut campaign at Anfield, and was valued at £29.83m – only marginally more than the total fee the club signed him for. Emre Can (£30.93m) was ranked second, and justifiably so after impressing in midfield. Then there was Philippe Coutinho, a man who can, according to the research, command a transfer fee of over £40m.
According to the latest reports on his future, that’s true. Paris Saint-Germain have been credited with an interest in the 23-year-old of late, while Barcelona are known to have cast more than a passing glance in the Brazilian’s direction. In a squad that requires considerable surgery, he is the desirable among the dross. Liverpool’s crown slipped long ago, but, as Klopp aims to help the club regain their throne, Coutinho is undoubtedly regarded as the jewel.
It is not a role the former Inter Milan midfielder has fulfilled for long. In the fabled 2013/14 season, Coutinho ranked seventh for goals (five) in all competitions – two behind Martin Skrtel – and fifth for assists (eight). The following campaign, he ranked third for both goals (eight) and assists (six). The Brazilian established himself as the backing singer to Luis Suarez’s main act, then the same role during Raheem Sterling’s character arc from main protagonist to vilified antagonist.
Only this past season did Coutinho step out from those considerable shadows. Daniel Sturridge was the only player to outscore the Brazilian in all competitions as the Reds married a troubled Premier League campaign with immense promise followed by crushing disappointment in two cup competitions.
So, should Liverpool contemplate selling their talisman?
Some find such a scenario unfathomable. The argument against is obvious: Coutinho is commonly accepted as Liverpool’s best player; the club are looking to rebuild and cannot do so by selling established top-level talent; the Brazilian is a pure match-winner, able to conjure a special moment like no other at the club. Ask Manchester City. Ask Manchester United. Ask Southampton.
But Coutinho isn’t Liverpool’s best player; he isn’t Liverpool’s best Brazilian player. Dani Alves is among the many to consider him ‘Barcelona quality’, but his current club is far more his level. He is an exceptional talent with a penchant for remarkable goals, incisive passing and smooth dribbling. But he is a classical musician in Klopp’s heavy-metal band. Eight Liverpool players made more tackles in the Premier League last season – Firmino (67) made almost double the total of his compatriot (35). Only three players – James Milner, Can and Lucas – were dribbled past on more occasions, and each completed at least 30 more tackles. To claim that Coutinho shirks from the work-rate his manager demands is unfair, but other players are far more suited to the system. That includes those Klopp will seek to sign this summer.
Coutinho is Liverpool’s most valuable player, but, unlike Suarez and Sterling before him, he is not indispensable. Those two had outgrown Anfield, and the club fought tooth and nail to keep them. In Coutinho’s case, selling the crown jewel could be a sacrifice that makes legitimate financial sense. Klopp must decide whether he prefers inconsistent excellence or a significant cash injection. It would provide transfer funds to address the numerous problems in the squad – of which attacking midfield ranks lowest in terms of priority.
“Nobody in the world – maybe only Lionel Messi – is unsellable,” said the manager in March. Not captain Jordan Henderson. Not elite goalscorer Daniel Sturridge. And not the winner of the club’s Player of the Season, Goal of the Season, Performance of the Season or Team Players’ Player of the Season awards. Philippe Coutinho is not the best or most important member of Liverpool’s squad, but he is the only individual for whom the club can command upwards of £40m. It is a situation Klopp may at least consider taking advantage of.