Coutinho's Barcelona move edges closer despite denials

BARCELONA • Barcelona are reportedly close to buying Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho for a club-record fee as the Catalans look to fill the void left by Neymar's world-record move to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).

The Spanish giants already had an interest in Coutinho prior to Neymar's €222 million (S$355 million) transfer to PSG last week.

And Barcelona-based newspaper Sport reported a deal for the 25-year-old is "a question of hours", with Barca officials in England on Tuesday to thrash out a deal.

Both Sport and ESPN Deportes claimed Barca will pay an initial €90 million fee.

However, according to ESPN, bonuses could take the total value of the deal to €120 million.

Barca believe the Brazilian international has the ability to replace Neymar alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez - who moved to the Camp Nou from Liverpool in 2014 for a club-record fee of €82.3 million - in a star front three.

He could also provide cover for 33-year-old captain Andres Iniesta in midfield.

The 25-year-old already has LaLiga experience on the other side of Barcelona as he enjoyed a successful six-month loan spell at Espanyol in 2012. He then joined Liverpool in January 2013 for £8.5 million (S$15 million) and the Merseyside club are determined to keep him.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp told Barcelona "to save their energy" last week, and former skipper Steven Gerrard told BT Sport that Coutinho will have to create "war" if wants to go to Barcelona.

"The good thing from the Liverpool fans' point of view is the manager is desperate to keep hold of him and is trying everything to keep hold of him," said the BT Sport pundit.

"The owners want him to stay. This is not a situation where Liverpool need money or to cash in. We're not a selling club so they're going to do everything in their power for him to stay.

"But at the end of the day, it comes down to Coutinho, and his decision and what he's prepared to do, what type of war he's prepared to create to get out, because Liverpool won't make it easy for him."

According to various British media, Coutinho wants to join the Spanish giants and has already agreed personal terms with the club. However, he will not force a move as he desires an amicable Anfield exit.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2017, with the headline 'Coutinho's Barcelona move edges closer despite denials'. Print Edition | Subscribe