Philippe Coutinho's Aston Villa move is a stunning statement of intent

Philippe Coutinho’s Aston Villa move is a stunning statement of intent from Steven Gerrard… the Brazilian needs to get his mojo back and readjust to the Premier League, but he can be the Jack Grealish replacement they’ve been crying out for

  • Philippe Coutinho has joined Aston Villa on loan until the end of the season
  • The Brazilian has had a nightmare time of it in Barcelona since joining in 2018
  • He joins forces again with Steven Gerrard, his former Liverpool team-mate 

It’s easy to forget now, but it all started quite well for Philippe Coutinho at Barcelona.

After arriving in a stunning £146m move from Liverpool in January 2018, Coutinho scored his first goal minutes after coming off the bench in the second leg of Barcelona’s Copa del Rey semi-final against Valencia.

Barca held a 1-0 first-leg lead but it was 0-0 when Coutinho entered the fray at half-time, with Valencia the better side. Five minutes later, the Brazilian converted from close range after clever work by old Liverpool team-mate Luis Suarez. Barca went on to to win the tournament and Coutinho got his first piece of silverware in Spain.

Philippe Coutinho has joined Aston Villa from Barcelona on loan for the rest of the season

It’s a stunning statement of intent from Steven Gerrard, who played with Coutinho at Liverpool

Few could have predicted the trajectory of Coutinho’s path in the summer of 2018 but the signs that this wouldn’t be easy were there. Barcelona signed him as an eventual replacement for Andres Iniesta, yet Coutinho had always described himself as a No 10.

At Liverpool, Klopp had used him either as an attacker in the front three or the most advanced of his three midfielders but rarely, if ever, in the Iniesta role Barcelona had earmarked him for.

He struggled to settle and 18 months later, joined Bayern Munich on loan for a season. There, Coutinho faced the bizarre situation of playing against his parent club in the Champions League final and rubbing salt in their wounds by scoring two late goals to help Bayern thrash the Catalans 8-2.

Bayern and Coutinho went on to win the Champions League but passed on the option of signing Brazilian. In truth, it was the right call – he looked a shell of the player who set Anfield alight. He returned to Spain and Barcelona used him fleetingly, cautious that certain add-ons in the deal to buy him from Liverpool would be activated by how much game time he got.

Coutinho arrives back in England after failing to make a success of his £145m Barca move

When Coutinho arrived in Spain from Liverpool, he was one of the world’s biggest talents

Things started well for him but he struggled to replicate the form seen at Anfield 

When the pandemic hit, Barcelona’s finances nosedived and with debts of over £1billion, they have been operating on a shoestring budget. President Joan Laporta insisted things have changed with the £50m January signing of Ferran Torres, but Coutinho’s departure to Aston Villa makes space for Torres to be registered officially as a Barcelona player.

So what sort of player is arriving at Villa Park? To a certain extent, the Brazilian will return to the Premier League with his tail between his legs – nobody would have predicted Aston Villa would be the next team he played for in England when he put pen to paper on a five-and-a-half year deal with Barcelona in 2018.

Villa are 13th in the Premier League table, despite making a promising start to life under Steven Gerrard since he took over as manager in November. They are only three points off the top 10 and a top-half finish will be Gerrard’s aim this year.

It will, one would imagine, be an underconfident Coutinho who arrives as well. He has played 16 times for Barcelona this season, scoring twice, but it has been a difficult year at the Nou Camp as they adjust to life without Lionel Messi.

It is here where Gerrard’s man-management skills will be needed. Coutinho will also need time to readjust to the Premier League’s pace and physicality but knows he arrives with a huge sense of expectation on his shoulders.

He went on loan to Bayern Munich and won the Champions League with the Germans in 2020

Coutinho needs to rediscover his mojo – his time at Barcelona has knocked his confidence 

Gerrard has been instrumental in getting Coutinho to choose Villa as his next destination and heaped praise on him as the deal was announced on Friday.

‘Sixty-three caps for Brazil, a serial winner, played for Barcelona, was incredible at Liverpool – so I can understand why he’s linked to a lot of football clubs,’ Gerrard said.

‘I can understand why a lot of supporters up and down the country are speaking about him. I don’t think you get a nickname as a Magician if you’re not a special footballer.

‘He’s someone I’ve got an incredible amount of respect for.’

The completion of Coutinho’s deal is subject to a medical and work permit being completed, both of which should be formalities. Villa also have an option to buy Coutinho for £33m, while they are paying £125,000 per week as a cut of his wages in Spain. 

But if the move works out, he could be the Jack Grealish replacement Villa urgently need

For now, Coutinho’s arrival will galvanise the club and is a big statement of intent

Barcelona would have hoped to recoup more for the Brazilian but Coutinho is 29 and the price appears appropriate for a player approaching his 30s and who is struggling to recapture his finest form.

For now though, it’s a signing that Villa fans will rally around and it’s a huge statement of ambition from the Midlands side. 

If all goes well, it could be the perfect replacement for Jack Grealish. Emi Buendia, the £40m summer signing from Norwich, has struggled to impose himself at Villa. If not, Coutinho’s move could be banded in the same bracket as James Rodriguez to Everton.

His first appearance for Villa could well be against Manchester United in the Premier League on January 15 – Gerrard’s side host United at Villa Park in the late game that Saturday. 

Villa Park will be bouncing. And that immediate shot in the arm at the club is no bad thing, whatever happens over the next few months with Coutinho. 

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