Both Philippe Coutinho and Liverpool may not get what they want in Barcelona transfer saga

Author: Duncan Castle, Special to Arab NewsTue, 2017-12-19 00:17ID: 1513620729241749000LONDON: It was one of those uncomfortable post-game moments when a footballer is asked an awkward question before a live television audience. Philippe Coutinho’s eyes turned toward the floor, his head beginning to shake in response to a query as to how “desperate” he was to “stay a part of this Liverpool team … at least until the end of the season.”Coutinho — who made the degree to which he wished to be allowed to leave Liverpool for Barcelona explicitly clear less than four months ago, and who would gladly move to the Nou Camp in 13 days time were the opportunity to present itself — held to a well-rehearsed script. “Sorry,” began the Brazilian. “I always say the same thing: I try to enjoy the moment. You know I like to play football and every time when I go inside the pitch I try my best. So I enjoy the moment.”Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a midfielder signed by Liverpool while Coutinho was avoiding August training with what was officially described as a “sore back,” felt compelled to intervene. An arm was thrown around a team-mate who had scored a stellar opening goal in Liverpool’s comprehensive 4-0 win at Bournemouth. “He’s a Liverpool player right now and he’s doing really well for us,” said Oxlade-Chamberlain. “He’s been the most professional person I’ve seen all season, he’s been top quality from the start, and every time he gets on the pitch he does his all for the club. That’s the most important thing right now. It’s not fair to ask those kind of questions.”The Englishman had a point. A query more reflective of the situation Coutinho finds himself in might have referenced the 24-year-old’s desperation to see his long-desired switch to Barcelona completed in the forthcoming transfer window. Or, at worse, next summer.There are no guarantees that either trading period will permit the attacking midfielder to move from grey Merseyside to comforting Catalunya. So unsettled was the Nou Camp hierarchy by Neymar’s forced exit to Paris Saint-Germain last summer that they were prepared to pay a transfer fee worth up to €160million ($188 million) for Coutinho. Following secret negotiations in which Liverpool asked Barcelona for time to sign a replacement then bid a club-record sum for AS Monaco’s Thomas Lemar, the Brazilian believed the deal would go through by deadline day.Arsenal, however, trumped Liverpool’s offer for Lemar, the France international refused to move to London, and the Anfield club stopped Coutinho’s sale from happening. “I will not say how much we offered, but (Liverpool) asked for €200 million,” stated Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Liverpool, as had been their habit through the window, briefed otherwise, sticking to a party line that the player has never been for sale and that no valuation had been presented to the Catalans.Coutinho’s new problem is that Barca’s enthusiasm has faded, and their mid-season requirements altered. With Javier Mascherano poised to depart for the Chinese Super League, the La Liga leaders need a new central defender. With Manchester City’s pursuit of Lionel Messi forcing Barca to sweeten what was already the richest agreed remuneration package in football to belatedly sign that new contract, the club’s tight finances are yet further strained.The net effect is that Barca are not willing to transfer as much cash to Fenway Sports Group (FSG) for the little Brazilian as they were in those panicked days of August. According to a Barcelona source, they do not want to pay more than €100 million for the player. Liverpool are asking for €110 million guaranteed, and €140 million in total. “The club is tired of not being able to negotiate in reasonable terms,” said the source.They are also working on an alternative for Coutinho’s position. Brazil youth international Arthur’s release clause stands at €50 milllion, Barca reckon they can get the 21-year-old out of Gremio for €30 million, and have opened negotiations on the deal. Gremio are trying to maximize their income, floating interest from Real Madrid and other “big, very big, clubs in Europe”, but whatever that produces, Arthur is a far cheaper option.Liverpool are also in danger of missing a boat. The Premier League club is pursuing Lemar again, yet are unlikely to secure him from Monaco at a discount. Should Barca stick to their current negotiating position, the net profit on exchanging Coutinho for the Frenchman will be considerably slimmer than last summer.Yes, a winter sale saves face for Liverpool’s owners, but is face more important to FSG than profit? Coutinho, meanwhile, is not bothered about how things look. He just wants to be playing football and enjoying the moment in a better place.
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