Coutin-who? As Liverpool continue to negotiate with Inter Milan over the transfer of Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho – the ECHO looks at the career of a player who was once dubbed ‘the new Ronaldinho’
FOR a player who is still only 20-years-old, Philippe Coutinho has sparked plenty of comparisons.
“Ronaldinho”, “Kaka”, “Alexandre Pato” “the future of Inter” – oh, and a Ferrari motor car.
That final comparison came from Inter’s Brazilian centre-back Juan Jesus who drooled: “For me, he’s a phenomenon. He’s like a Ferrari. When he’s dribbling with the ball at his feet, you just can’t catch up to him.”
Coutinho himself is more humble.
“I’m just Coutinho, a kid who's getting better. Ronaldinho is an extra-terrestrial who’s won everything. I’d be happy to achieve half of his success.”
A schoolboy sensation in his native Brazil, Inter led a cavalry charge of Europe’s biggest clubs to snap him up from Vasco da Gama at the tender age of 16.
The investment cost 4m euros – for a player forbidden to play in Serie A for a further two years!
Italian FA rules stipulate that a foreigner cannot play for an Italian team until he has turned 18.
When he did finally land in Italy, it was then Inter boss Rafa Benitez who unveiled him.
“He is a young player with lots of quality. He can be the future of the club and we expect him to do very well for us,” said Benitez.
He made his full Brazil debut in a friendly against Iran in October 2010, but early expectations were not fulfilled.
Comfort-able with both feet, Coutinho is a difficult player to pigeon hole.
He can play as a forward, on the left, on the right or behind the strikers.
And while that versatility and fluidity would be considered a positive as part of the philosophy Brendan Rodgers is trying to implement at Anfield, at Inter he struggled.
“My position? I’m a midfielder. I like to play behind the strikers and attack, so yes, I’m a bit like Wes Sneijder. My role models? Robinho and Kaka. The comparisons with Pato? It’s flattering, but we’re two different players. He’s a striker, I’m more a midfielder,” said Coutinho at his introductory press conference in Italy.
But because of his slight build – a problem Inter sought to rectify in weight-training sessions – and his electrifying pace, he ended up more often on the flanks.
There were glimpses of his quality, before a series of strains and minor injuries saw him spend more and more time on the sidelines.
He made his debut in the 2010 Super Cup final, won 2-0 by Atletico Madrid.
After dropping out of the first team picture he returned with a vengeance in a stunning Champions League victory at Bayern Munich.
Coutinho came off the substitutes bench to wreak havoc in the Allianz Arena and play a significant part in a 3-2 away win which guided Inter into the quarter-finals.
In May 2011, he scored his first Inter goal – a curling free-kick against Fiorentina, but injuries restricted his progress.
Inter decided to send the teenager to Espanyol on loan, and it was there – under the guidance of the new Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino that Coutinho finally started to rediscover the sparkle that had made him such a promising talent.
Inter quickly recalled him, but then a stress fracture of the tibia slowed his progress in Italy once again.
If Liverpool can negotiate a fee in the region of £6m (their opening offer of £5m was rejected) it would be a calculated gamble well worth the risk.
Misfortune appears to have stalled Coutinho’s career so far, rather than a lack of application.
His father and two older brothers, both lawyers, sit with him and assess each performance – a routine they have followed since he was a child.
“My family is the foundation of everything in my life,” he admitted.
Asked why he never seemed to go out partying with his team-mates he replied: “I’m a very quiet person. And I have to be, right? My family is always on my ass!”
He could soon become a very big noise if he joins the Liverpool family.