Yes, Coutinho’s form has taken a dip but Villa should try to buy him again this summer

ByRichard C. Sloan

Apr 27, 2022

There are times, even in this difficult period, where Philippe Coutinho wearing an Aston Villa shirt seems strange. The Brazilian is, in his day, still capable of producing moments of magic and is a wonderfully gifted player.

The fact that the 29-year-old is playing for Villa, a club returning to the Premier League after a three-year absence but now looking nervously over their shoulders in the last three with six games to go, means something has must have gone wrong. for him along the way.

That something was a long period of struggle that came on the heels of a frustrating spell caused by injuries at Barcelona.

The Catalan giants, who were in a transition period of their own when Coutinho was offered to any willing takers in January, felt they needed high-earning and aging performers to free up funds they could point to younger alternatives. Coutinho was therefore loaned to Villa and Ferran Torres, 22, replaced Manchester City.

It wasn’t as simple as Villa showing interest and Coutinho moving to the English Midlands. First, he wanted assurances about the club’s ‘sporting project’.

There was alternative interest, but not from the biggest clubs in England. Liverpool, the team he left for Barcelona in January 2018, felt a move to re-sign him would be a step backwards.

Newcastle United were keen but, like Everton left-back Lucas Digne who also dismissed them and instead joined Villa in the winter window, Coutinho was not ready to embark on a relegation battle. Ironically, they now have their work cut out to finish higher in the table than the Tyneside club with Villa.

After five successive games where he hasn’t contributed to a goal, either scoring it himself or assisting, and has also struggled to find a level of consistency in his performances, he comes to the stage where Coutinho has to improve his game.

When he’s not involved in matches, he’s almost anonymous. The weekend’s 0-0 draw at Leicester City was a clear example. The same was true for away games at Everton and Newcastle at the start of his loan spell.

Yet, despite the growing debate over his future, Villa would surely still benefit from the Brazilian striker’s presence on 68 caps for another season.

If a permanent deal can be agreed with Barcelona (and we’ll get to that soon on the intricacies of the finances involved), they’d be crazy to pass up the opportunity to sign a player who cost the Camp Nou club just over £108million. of four years. there is to pass.

Certainly there is more of a dilemma now than when individual moments of brilliance in games against Leeds United and Southampton in early March had fans purring.

Like Villa as a team, Coutinho tends to perform well for periods in games but rarely puts everything together for 90 minutes.

He’s also a different player at Villa Park compared to the road, which is another source of frustration.

Philippe Coutinho struggled for consistency during his half-season on loan at Aston Villa (Photo: James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)

But again, the good outweighs the bad and a £33million deal to buy him this summer – the figure that was agreed with his parent club in January – represents decent value. The thought of Coutinho in a team bolstered by a good midfield and extra firepower in the coming window is appealing.

The best-case scenario would see him use this period of regular games as a springboard to hit pre-season in good form and then attack 2022-23 with threat.

If his haphazard ways continue for the rest of this campaign, manager Steven Gerrard may have to drop him to the bench, from where he could make a late impact.

In fact, securing the aforementioned deal is where it gets tricky.

Villa know the transfer fee they have to pay but there is a restriction on how much they are willing to extend in terms of Coutinho’s salary.

The board is ready to generously reward players, but only based on their performance. Although the wage bill (£122million according to the club’s latest set of accounts for the year to May 2021) continues to rise every year, co-owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens and chief executive Christian Purslow are aware of the dangers of mismanagement. , after taking over a club on the verge of financial ruin in the summer of 2018.

With less than a month left in the club’s season, the talks will intensify over the coming weeks.

Villa like to do their transfer business early, but deciding on a deal of this nature is complex and time-consuming.

Gerrard remains keen on trying to sign Coutinho permanently and has backed his former Liverpool team-mate from day one.

It was their connection to Anfield that helped sway Coutinho in January when other clubs explored the possibility of signing him. An initial five-month contract was a given; if he performed well, then Villa had the first option in the summer. If he doesn’t, they might send him back to Barcelona.

The fact that we are now four months away and he is still somewhere in between is a sign of the risk associated with large money transfers.

Four goals and three assists in 13 games is a reasonable return. He has also created at least one chance for his teammates in the 12 games he has started for Villa apart from the 2-1 loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier this month.

Gerrard was right when he said at the weekend that it was wrong to expect Coutinho to be the man of the match every week.

Yet it’s the importance of big players in mid-to-lower ranked teams that makes such a difference.

Look at what Christian Eriksen is doing for Brentford – they have won five and drawn one of the six games he has started. No Brentford player has created more chances than Eriksen’s 14 since making his debut for them on February 26.

Newcastle’s €50m (£41m) January purchase of Bruno Guimaraes brings composure and ball-playing ability to a team that has struggled to retain possession for years. Coutinho’s compatriot is an essential cog in an in-form team. James Ward-Prowse has helped Southampton to eight points with his nine league goals this season.

Star players show up in big moments and that’s why the same is often expected of Coutinho.

Make no mistake, a player who won the Champions League two years ago while on loan at Bayern Munich has been entertaining, and many of Villa’s best moments this year have been thanks to him – his impact on the bench on his debut against Manchester United, the 30-minute spell of the draw with Leeds, the first half before the Tottenham game came in the shape of a pear.

If he could bring some of his home form into performances on Villa’s trips, he would truly be a handful.

The club are unlikely to be able to attract another No.10 to match their star quality this summer, with the pendulum swinging between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ it still feels like the smart and ambitious move is to close the deal.

(Top photo: Isaac Parkin/PA Images via Getty Images)