Marcelo Bielsa is a sage who acts as an oracle for those who want to consult his knowledge. Pep Clotet, the Birmingham coach and a sponge who seeks to learn from everyone, once came to ask him some advice. He had doubts about an Argentine player he wanted to sign. Bielsa did not disappoint, saying: “You may have seen hundreds of videos, investigated his injuries, his history, his private life, analysed his statistics in depth. You can know everything about him, but there is an uncontrollable variable: how he will adapt to his new habitat. It is impossible to know because it is a new reality, something new for everyone that cannot be analysed before his arrival.”
Philippe Coutinho's experience at Barça is a test that empirically confirms Bielsa's theory. Beyond the investment, how the signing was managed, the resistance of Liverpool and his arrival in January 2018, the Brazilian generated a practically unanimous consensus among Barcelonismo.
Barça signed a world-class footballer, with exceptional talent and who had become the great star of Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool team. The German, the smartest in the class, was one of the few who sensed the step that his soccer player was about to take: “Stay here and we will end up building a statue in your honour. Go to another club and you will end up being another player. Here you can be something else.” But to ask absolute loyalty from a Brazilian, whose only shirt is the "green-yellow" of the Seleçao, is to wait for an eagle to give up flying.
He landed at the Camp Nou in January, unable to feature in the Champions League for having already played with Liverpool in the competition - and that even seemed like it could be a positive for his adaptation.
Coutinho gave the feeling, in his first games, that he was, paraphrasing Florentino Pérez, born to play for Barça. He felt comfortable in his new ecosystem, looking for his place on the pitch, halfway between Neymar and Iniesta's football. He started to score goals and lay on assists, to be an important presence. He notched eight goals in LaLiga and two in the Copa del Rey, scoring in the semifinals against Valencia and in the final against Sevilla. He provided five assists in LaLiga and another in the Cup. Little more could be asked in his first half of a season. But something changed. In fact, Coutinho had the feeling from day one as a Blaugrana player that something was wrong.
The sports management explained to him during the conversations prior to his arrival that he would play in Iniesta's position, that this was the plan for him, that he can forget about trying to be Neymar and play on the wing, a position in which throughout his career he had not played. His first games seemed to go that way, but Valverde had other plans for him and abused Philippe as a winger. So much that he even placed him on the right wing against Real Madrid. Even the departure of Andrés Iniesta did not help him to return to his natural position. Coutinho began to feel out of place and without confidence to offer his best in a position far from the area where his influence in the game is increased.
But not everything has to do with his on pitch duties. When things are not going well and your backpack weighs 160 million euros, it seems there is no other choice but to rebel. It is usual, in private, those who are unhappy with the tasks entrusted to them by Valverde let him know. Everyone complains at Barcelona, but Coutinho never did. Extremely polite, he was not able to demand what in theory belonged to him. Messi and Suarez showed him love, but not everyone did. Some team-mates told him to do extra work in the gym. Such a comment deserved a blunt response, but Philippe is not made of that material. When things are bad, he lacks the character to pull himself out of the well.