Every week at The Center Circle, we are highlighting a different player in a feature we call “On the Spot”. We’ll take a look at superstars, underrated gems, aging veterans, and young unknowns who should be known. We’ll peruse their club and international careers, taking note of their teams, statistics, and highlight reels. We’ll illuminate their strengths and weaknesses and comment on their personalities and reputations. It will be some fun. If there is anyone you want to see “On the Spot”, feel free to comment below.
Even with the glut of new singings that have been brought into the Liverpool fold over the summer; one man still stands head and shoulders above the rest. Anfield’s midfield magician Philippe Coutinho proved the difference maker in the team’s opening match against Stoke City, and if his form from the end of last season holds up, Liverpool may have the best midfielder in the league on their hands.
From Rio to Milan
Philippe Coutinho’s rise to Premier League stardom all began in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. It wasn’t long until one of the country’s biggest teams, Vasco da Gama, became aware of the young player’s potential. Comparisons to Brazilian icons Kaká and Ronaldinho while playing in the club’s youth system soon sparked European interest.
At just 16-years-old in 2008, the Vasco da Gama youth product agreed a transfer with European giants Inter Milan. However, due to the rules of Italian competition, Coutinho was ineligible to play for his new club until he turned 18. Until then, Inter loaned their new €4 million signing back to Vasco da Gama. Coutinho would spend the next two seasons plying his trade in Rio, and even though he was still a teenager, he racked up over 40 appearances for the Brazilian powerhouse notching one goal and three assists in his final season.
The long awaited transition to the San Siro finally happened at the beginning of Inter’s 2010/2011 campaign. During his first season in Italy, the Brazilian started the majority of the team’s matches from the bench. His first competitive start for Inter didn’t come until the team’s late September Champions League clash with Werder Bremen, and his first goal for the club wouldn’t come until nearly another month later against Tottenham. Late into the first half of the season, however, Coutinho became a regular in the Inter squad for both Serie A fixtures and crucial Champions League ties. A month long stretch between February and March saw Coutinho drop out of the starting lineup, and he would finish the season making just four more appearances but scoring a beauty of a freekick in his final Serie A appearance of the campaign.
The midfielder’s attempt to fight for a starting place in Inter’s midfield took an unexpected turn in the 2011/12 campaign. Coutinho’s opportunities to impress the manager were impeded by niggling injuries and after just five league appearances through January; the midfielder was loaned out to Espanyol in La Liga. The move to Spain proved hugely positive for the developing player as he was immediately thrown into the starting eleven. Current Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino’s style allowed Coutinho to thrive in La Liga and a the conclusion of the loan spell, the 20-year-old had racked up 16 appearances (14 starts) and five goals.
The impressive stint at Espanyol would’ve surely boosted Coutinho’s confidence in breaking into Inter’s starting 11, but it wasn’t to be. His third season at the San Siro saw the majority of his playing time come in the team’s Europa League campaign. Despite starting seven games in Europe, Coutinho managed just three starts in Serie A, and found the back of the net just once in league play. This lack of playing time forced the young midfielder to look for new opportunity away from Italy.
You’ll Never Walk Alone
In the final week of the January transfer window, Liverpool provided Coutinho with an escape from his Italian nightmare. The Merseyside club paid a reported £8.5 million fee for the Brazilian, and today that price tag looks like a bargain.
Coutinho’s Premier League debut came just two weeks after signing for the club as he came on late in a 2-0 loss against West Bromwich Albion. After debuting from the bench, the Brazilian found himself in the heart of Liverpool’s midfield as he started all 12 of his next appearances. In just his second game for the club, Coutinho found the back of the net during a 5-0 demolition of Swansea City. The 21-year-old’s debut season with Liverpool ended with 13 league appearances along with three goals and five assists.
The following season came with more of the same from the former Inter player. Coutinho’s first goal of the season came in a 3-3 draw against bitter rivals Everton. His first full season at Anfield was briefly interrupted by injury, but even with the almost two month absence, Coutinho was still able to record a career best seven assists and another five goals. The Brazilian’s contributions in midfield helped push Liverpool to a second place finish, just one point behind champions Manchester City.
Coutinho’s breakthrough season came the following year in the 2014/15 campaign. The losses of Luis Suárez to Barcelona over the summer and Daniel Sturridge to injury saw the Reds slip down the table and it limited the attacking options Coutinho could find upfront. Despite these challenges, the Brazilian still managed to make himself a household name to soccer fans across the globe. Impressive performances during the second half of the season against the likes of Bolton, Manchester City and Southampton provided a glistening bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season at Anfield. To make things even better for Liverpool fans, Coutinho signed a long term contract extension with the club in February.
Just one game into this year’s Premier League season, the Brazilian magician has shown fans what they were missing over the summer. In a difficult match away at the Britannia Stadium, it was Coutinho who proved the showstopper. His rocket in the 86th minute was the lone goal in Liverpool’s victory and it looks like we’re in for another season of Coutinho magic at Anfield.
After succeeding for Brazil at both the U-17 and U-20 levels, it looks as if Coutinho is finally set to make an impact for the senior side. His first international cap came back in 2010 during a friendly against Iran, but since then he has made just 11 appearances in the famed yellow shirt. Despite a spike in his playing time with Liverpool before the 2014 World Cup, Luiz Felipe Scolari left the budding star out of the final 23-man squad. The introduction of Dunga as the team’s new manager looks to have revitalized Coutinho’s place in the squad as he played key minutes in Brazil’s Copa América push over the summer.
Style of Play
Philippe Coutinho stands just 5ft 7in on the pitch. Despite his diminutive size, the Brazilian midfielder is still able to boss possession in the middle of the park and score goals in the gritty areas in front of the net. To make up for his lack of height, Coutinho possesses quick pace and an almost unmatched ability to read and anticipate the game. His soccer IQ makes him an invaluable addition to any team he plays for, and as he has started to show, he can also score highlight reel goals from distance. This combination of pace, intellect and power make Coutinho one of the must-see players in the game today.