Not many former Liverpool players divide opinion as much as Philippe Coutinho.
The Brazilian was, for the majority of his time at Anfield, one of if not the most important player in the team.
Signed by Brendan Rodgers in January 2013 from Inter Milan, the relatively small fee of £8.5million represented a bargain fee for a player with significant potential.
While Coutinho remained at Anfield, some big names left the club either for large transfer fees or for pastures new.
Luis Suarez departed for Barcelona in 2014 for £75m, while Raheem Sterling left a year later to sign for Manchester City in a £49m deal – the same summer that Steven Gerrard left to move to the United States with LA Galaxy.
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As Coutinho gradually became the main man at Liverpool, some of Europe’s biggest clubs gradually started to take notice.
His performances in the Europa League campaign in 2015/16 during Jurgen Klopp’s first season was where it all really started.
Barcelona showed their interest and it never truly went away. Coutinho’s standing in world football grew and Liverpool knew they needed to do more to keep their star player.
Four years later, on this day (January 25) in 2017, Coutinho was putting pen to paper on a new five-year deal with Liverpool.
His deal kept him contracted to Liverpool until 2022, and made him the highest paid player at Anfield with a reported wage of £150,000 per week, according to ESPN .
But a year later he was gone.
Indeed, even though Coutinho committed his future to Liverpool, and was playing some of his best football, from the moment he put pen to paper it was the beginning of the end of his Anfield career.
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The 2017/18 season had begun in early August, but Coutinho wasn’t in the team due to claiming he had a “back injury”.
He missed all of Liverpool’s first four Premier League matches, as well as a two-legged Champions League qualifier against Hoffenheim.
Despite this, he was still deemed fit enough to feature for Brazil against Ecuador a week before Liverpool faced Man City at the Etihad Stadium.
Brazil’s team doctor at the time said that Coutinho was in “perfect” condition to play, despite the injury claims.
“From a medical point of view, Philippe is in the perfect condition to play,” Brazil doctor Rodrigo Lasmar said in August 2017.
Coutinho didn’t publicly state his desire to leave Liverpool, but Klopp gradually knew that the Brazilian was desperate to move to the Nou Camp.
The playmaker stayed at Anfield for the first half of the 2017/18 season, playing a key role in helping the club qualify for the Champions League knockout stages.
He scored a hat-trick in the final group game against Spartak Moscow, where he also wore the captain’s armband in a 7-0 victory at Anfield.
But just a couple of weeks later, Barcelona came back to the table with an interest in signing Coutinho.
The player himself told Klopp that he wanted to go, and the club did what they could to make sure that a deal got through, but also that maximum value for the player was reached.
In the end, Liverpool banked £142m for Coutinho in January 2018, which represents a massive £133.5m profit on when they signed him from Inter five years previously.
And they could reinvest that money on the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker and Fabinho to catapult Liverpool back to the very top of European football. It was clever business all around.
But while the fee recouped for Coutinho was arguably where the eye was most drawn, what doesn’t get enough attention is Liverpool getting the Brazilian to sign a new deal a year beforehand.
Without that piece of business, Liverpool would have lost Coutinho for a significantly lower fee.
And it’s clearly a strategy that both FSG and Michael Edwards employ when it comes to ensuring Liverpool extract maximum value from buying clubs when it comes to selling players.
It was something the club did with Suarez as far back as 2013. The Uruguayan signing a new long-term deal in the December of that year despite nearly leaving the club months earlier. His desire to depart wouldn’t change and Suarez would join Barcelona in summer 2014 for what was then a club-record fee of £75m.
Even this summer Nat Phillips signed a new Liverpool deal as the Reds ensured his value was protected after what was a breakout year. It’s why they now hold all the cards and can demand £15m from potential buyers.
But the Reds do have a slight concern when it comes to their front three and other areas of the pitch.
Mohamed Salah is an obvious issue. But with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino also seeing their contracts run down, so will their value. Naby Keita is another whose contract has just 18 months left to run.
Should Liverpool be put in a position in which any of those players want to leave, they’d struggle to demand the same sky high fees they did with previous sales.
And then they could lose the chance to reinvest that money to retain their place with the elite.
The sooner those contracts are resolved, the better.