LONDON • Liverpool have denied Barcelona's claims that they were prepared to sell Philippe Coutinho on Spain's transfer deadline day for €200 million (S$322 million).
The Spanish football club have had three bids swiftly rejected for the Brazil midfielder and Liverpool had repeatedly insisted that he was not for sale.
But, with the 25-year-old handing in a transfer request and not training with his team-mates, while citing a back injury, Barcelona continued to express their optimism that a deal could be done.
Within hours of the window closing last Friday with no agreement being reached, Barcelona said they had walked away after Liverpool placed a €200 million price on him - but that claim has been dismissed as false by the English club.
Barcelona did not say who they spoke to, or where, and sources say that they did attempt to make direct contact with Liverpool's American owner, Fenway Sports Group, on Friday (Spain's transfer window closed a day after that of the Premier League). However, that approach was knocked back.
Liverpool insist that their position never changed: Coutinho was not for sale for any price at any time.
However, Barcelona's sporting director Albert Soler claimed on Saturday: "Yesterday at the last minute, after weeks of offers and conversations, Liverpool put a price on a player that we wanted. A price of €200 million and we decided not to do it.
"This club will not enter into this new way of understanding football. This club belongs to its members and we will not act irresponsibly. Our priority are always sporting matters, but we have to manage our finances and there are limits that you cannot go beyond."
Soler appeared alongside the director of football, Robert Fernandez, to justify a transfer window that began with the departure of Neymar for €222 million and that many consider to have been disastrous for Barcelona, with pressure growing for the resignation of the president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, and his board.
They bemoaned a shift in an "inflated market" in which they paid €105 million plus a further €40 million in add-ons for Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund, and when it came to Coutinho, they accused Liverpool of finally setting a price they refused to meet. That claim, too, now comes under question.
In the final days of the window, sources at Barcelona believed that once Liverpool had signed replacements the path would be clear to close a deal for Coutinho, who had made little secret of his desire to go and remained in contact with Barcelona. If that hope was genuine, it ultimately proved unfounded.
When Barcelona presented Dembele last week, Fernandez said that he hoped to make "one more signing, maybe two", but none arrived. Although they chased other options in the final days, the principal target was Coutinho.
Barcelona were also trying to secure the signature of Angel di Maria from Paris Saint-Germain. Late on Friday night, Barcelona pulled out of all negotiations and brought the market to a close.
"We could have signed two players for €270 million each - and we could have - but then we would have to resign for being irresponsible," explained Soler.
"We're not going to be drawn into that game."
Liverpool will this week begin the task of reintegrating Coutinho into their squad.
On Saturday, he was officially named in Liverpool's 25-man Premier League squad for the rest of the season and is expected back, probably on Thursday, after Brazil's World Cup qualifier in Colombia.
Although the 25-year-old has not spoken publicly after failing to secure his desired move, Neymar said his Brazilian team-mate was feeling "disappointment and sadness".
In theory he will be available for Liverpool's next game at Manchester City on Saturday, but without him Jurgen Klopp's side have impressed and he is unlikely to go straight into the team.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS