Coutinho's Next Move is an 'Audition' to Football's Elite

Philippe Coutinho’s career is at a crossroads. His current club Bayern Munich have recently decided not to exercise their option to buy the Brazilian after a year loan at the Bavarian giants, and so he’ll return to parent club Barcelona in the summer without a permanent move and with his career stagnating.

It could have all been so different for the once-heralded playmaker. His stint at Liverpool cemented his status as one of the top attacking midfielders in the world and a big move to Barcelona was meant to take his game to the next level and help a talented but relatively out of sorts team finally recover from the loss of Neymar.

But, it was not to be.

The biggest problem surrounding Coutinho at Barcelona was how he fitted into the team. A player like Coutinho is a member of the increasingly diminishing and somewhat old school playmakers that need the team to be built around their strengths and weaknesses.

At Barca, it seemed the presence of Messi would never allow the Brazilian to show his true talent. For Coutinho to thrive he needs plenty of touches on the ball and to be able to occupy advanced attacking positions between the lines where he can threaten defences with his creativity and playmaking ability. When you have arguably the best player ever on your team who does all those things, it can be quite hard for those demands to be met, and so throughout his spell at Barca Coutinho was shoehorned into a system which didn’t fit in positions he couldn’t thrive in.

This is why I was surprised to see him linked with Leicester City recently. You would figure at a club which has a smaller stature to that of Bayern and Barca, Coutinho will be given the role he needs to thrive, but Leicester already has a similar playmaking midfielder in James Maddison. You can argue about who you would rather have in your team, but that’s not why we're here.

The point is that it would seem that Maddison and Coutinho would struggle to co-exist in that Leicester side. Sure, either Coutinho and Maddison are capable of playing as wingers in a Brendan Rodgers system which sees the wide players drift inside to make room for onrushing wing backs, meaning one could play as an advanced midfielder and one out wide, but both players like to occupy the same spaces and so the Leicester attack might get congested. With too many ball-dominant playmakers causing the free-flowing fast-paced attacking football to slow down to a grinding halt. This would limit the effectiveness of players like Jamie Vardy who thrive off quick transitions and counterattacks.

Chelsea has been another club linked with Coutinho, and I can see this working out. At first glance, people may point out that there is potential for the same problem that there could be with Leicester, as Hakim Ziyech, who also operates as an advanced midfielder, will be joining in the summer from Ajax. However, this isn’t a massive problem as unlike with Maddison, Coutinho and Ziyech could be able to co-exist in the same team.

Ziyech is a player who isn’t as ball-dominant as Coutinho, in the sense that he is someone who can move the ball quickly and play off one or two touches if necessary. This frees up Coutinho to be the main creator in Chelsea’s attack. In this scenario, Coutinho could potentially play out wide and drift inside to accommodate Chelsea’s wing-backs, with Mason Mount and Ziyech playing in midfield.

Arsenal is the last of the English clubs to be linked with the Brazilian, and I can also see this working on the field as well. Arsenal lacks a true playmaker in their side (sorry Ozil, but I can’t see you returning to your former self) which is a shame when you consider they boast Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in their front line. It also seems Coutinho would suit Mikel Arteta’s possession-based system as well.

I think Coutinho can be what Ozil once was for this Arsenal team and, considering the lack of competition in midfield, Coutinho would have the important role and the patience of the fans he needs in order to thrive.

All this conjecture, of course, comes with an asterisk.

It seems that the only realistic method of transfer for Coutinho would be to go somewhere else on loan, as Barca would fail to recoup a large fee for an underperforming player they signed only two years ago. This means that despite any move made in the summer, his future will still be up in the air.

However, what Coutinho needs is a chance to rebuild his reputation. Wherever he may go next year will essentially be an audition to the world’s top clubs in an attempt to say, ‘I’m still a world-class player’. This is the reason he may need to take a step down from the planet’s top clubs and take a season at Arsenal, Chelsea or Leicester, where he will have plenty of the ball and will be given a true chance to show what he can do.

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