Football: Philippe Coutinho living the Barcelona dream

Brazilian star Philippe Coutinho entertaining more than 7,000 fans who had turned up at the Nou Camp to watch his unveiling as a Barcelona player yesterday.
Brazilian star Philippe Coutinho entertaining more than 7,000 fans who had turned up at the Nou Camp to watch his unveiling as a Barcelona player yesterday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Playmaker unveiled to fans, but debut may be delayed till end of month owing to injury

BARCELONA • Philippe Coutinho was officially unveiled as a Barcelona player yesterday as he completed a £142 million (S$255.7 million) move that he described as a dream come true.

Over 7,000 fans turned up at the Nou Camp to welcome their new signing, with the playmaker posing for photographs and juggling a ball.

"I'm very happy, as I've said it was my dream," said the Brazil international yesterday after inking a deal to 2023. "I hope to live up to expectations on the pitch."

But Coutinho - and Barcelona fans - will have to wait until the end of this month for his debut because he is still recovering from the right thigh injury he suffered as a Liverpool player.

He is already looking forward to playing alongside Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta, describing them as well as club stalwarts Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets as "idols".

Coutinho has already lined up alongside Suarez for 18 months at the Anfield club before the Uruguayan made the same move to Spain in 2014.

"Everybody knows about his quality. He has been playing at the highest level for years now and that is important," said Suarez.

HE'LL BE A GOOD FIT

He's an important signing. I have seen him play in various positions - on the right, the left, in the middle, on the wings. We will evaluate all of this... but, of course, I don't think he will play as a goalkeeper!

'' ERNESTO VALVERDE, Barcelona manager, on the versatile Brazilian international.

"Now we need to make sure he feels at home because we know that changing club is always difficult, but I think he is the type of player who will fit well into the team."

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde predicted the versatile 25-year-old would fit comfortably into the team.

"Coutinho is a player who I think can bring a lot to us," he said. "He's an important signing.

"I have seen him play in various positions - on the right, the left, in the middle, on the wings.

"We will evaluate all of this... but, of course, I don't think he will play as a goalkeeper!"

The transfer is outranked only by Paris Saint-Germain's world record €222 million (S$354 million) signing of Neymar from Barcelona last year, and their capture of French striker Kylian Mbappe for a deal eventually worth €180 million.

It is understood that Coutinho has committed to paying £11.5 million of the fee simply to ensure there were no late hitches with the deal. He has already paid about £9 million, according to well-placed sources.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will sign a replacement only if the right player becomes available this month and, ideally, he wants to accelerate Naby Keita's £57 million move from RB Leipzig, which is scheduled for July 1 as it stands.

There is no appetite, at present, to pursue Monaco's Thomas Lemar or Leicester's Riyad Mahrez but Klopp has been assured by Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool's owner, that the club will react if a player he wants becomes available.

Coutinho arrived at Liverpool in January 2013 and scored 54 goals for the club in all competitions, although he won no silverware during his five-year stay at the Reds.

He is looking for his first trophy since winning the 2011 Italian Cup with Inter Milan and has joined a team who are running away with the Spanish league title.

The feel-good atmosphere is in stark contrast to the dismay enveloping the Bernabeu.

Real Madrid on Sunday fell 16 points behind LaLiga leaders Barcelona after a 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo and are on the brink of crisis.

Left-back Marcelo admitted the Spanish and European champions hit a new low after their fourth straight away game without a win.

"We're sad and we're f****** sunk," he said after Real got only their 32nd point after 17 games, leaving them behind Valencia (37) and Atletico Madrid (39) who have played a game more. "We're trying to get out of this mess."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2018, with the headline 'Coutinho living the Barca dream'. Print Edition | Subscribe