Mr Money makes Coutinho’s Camp Nou dream come true
Brazilian unveiled in Catalonia but injury will delay his Barcelona debut for three weeks
New Barcelona signing Philippe Coutinho poses for a picture with a group of mascots at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images
Philippe Coutinho was given the full treatment: laid out on the stretcher, name of the club’s official medical supplier splashed on the boards behind him, thumbs up, cables suckered on to his chest, and the string vest, plus clearance to play – just not yet.
By the time he arrived for his presentation at the Camp Nou, where he thanked Liverpool for having “kept their word” and Barcelona’s vice-president, Jordi Mestre, said that the financial demands had “dropped”, facilitating the sale, it had been confirmed that Coutinho will be out for 20 days with a right-thigh injury.
He has waited months to get here; he will have to wait a little longer to play.
Coutinho described his last conversation with Jürgen Klopp as one of “gratitude”. He said he was thankful Liverpool had kept their word – the second time he said so – but did not reveal what that word was, although five months after refusing to let him go they granted his wish, finally agreeing to him joining Barcelona, for a total fee that could reach €160 million (£142 million).
Coutinho is reported to have paid €13 million out of his own pocket to help push the deal through. As the Spanish phrase has it, Mr Money is a powerful gentleman.
Coutinho’s own conviction remained steadfast. He had made up his mind. Liverpool, he said, accepted that in the end.
“It was hard. Every moment it changed, three, four months, and then we were here, done. I think I still don’t properly realise it but I will soon when I train with my team-mates. Liverpool did everything they could to keep me and tried to make me stay but they understood that this was my dream.”
And so he followed the path of Luis Suárez, with whom he said he had been in constant contact. The Uruguayan even helped him look for a house and was waiting for him at the airport late on Saturday night.
The following afternoon Coutinho watched Barcelona beat Levante from the Reina Sofia Hotel on Diagonal, the avenue that cuts through the city, and on Monday morning he headed for his medical.
From there he went to the Sant Joan Despí training ground and on to the Sala Roma at the Camp Nou. A quick word from the president and he was handed a shirt. His name was on the back but so far it has no number – although he is likely to take Javier Mascherano’s No14.
Next stop was the dressing room and, to the strains of the club anthem, on to the pitch where his first game in a Barcelona shirt was a brief kickabout with a small group of kids.
For a while they kept the ball from him but at least none tested the extent of an injury many on Merseyside suspected was more in the mind than in his muscles. From the stands 7,436 people watched and, when he finished, he was handed the keys to a new car, driven down the tunnel and parked at the side of the pitch, standing a little awkwardly as more photos were taken.
That morning report diagnosed that it will be a while before he is back out there properly.
In 20 days there is a league game against Alavés but he is more likely to be ready for a Copa del Rey semi-final first leg on January 31st, if Barcelona get there.
His league debut could be in early February against Espanyol, one of Coutinho’s former clubs.
Unable to play in the Champions League, he will get at most three cup games. In La Liga, Barcelona have a nine-point lead, 16 over Real Madrid.
“It’s not over,” Coutinho said, but he knows his contribution to success this season is likely to be limited.
That, though, did not diminish his day. Nor, it appears, did it temper his hurry to arrive. Barcelona, too, were keen to get the deal done. Mestre claimed that the cost of the deal had dropped.
He did so in self-defence after he was reminded that a fellow director had insisted at the end of the summer window that they would have to resign for financial “irresponsibility” if they had spent €270 million on two players. In fact, they will have spent close to €300 million.
While there were references to Coutinho making a “financial effort” to come, the implication was that the fee itself had fallen. Yet he would not confirm a fee and there were references to other big clubs being interested which hardly forces prices down.
“The reduction was sufficiently important to allow us to pay for this and for as long as Oscar Grau, who is responsible [for economic issues], told us it was possible we carried on.”
Coutinho appeared in the auditorium, posed for photos with Mestre, until photographers shouted for the vice-president to get out of the way. Then Coutinho sat before a giant screen, looking up at an image of him playing for Liverpool, Barcelona kit drawn over the top.
A video started – eventually – without sound, opening with a goal at Newcastle, followed by Bournemouth and Brighton. His first words were to offer thanks to God – thousands of Barcelona fans began inserting their own Leo Messi gag right there – and there were thanks to Liverpool’s supporters too, in English, and to the club’s owners, for understanding.
“I’m very happy,” he said, on a loop. He said he had come to play wherever the manager wanted and, when it was suggested that he was there to ‘be’ Andrés Iniesta, he said: “You’ve just said Iniesta [but] I think Iniesta is a genius.”
He admitted that Paulinho and Neymar had encouraged him to come, Suárez too. “That just made me even more determined to come,” he said.
Why Barcelona, he was asked. “Easy,” he said. “Because it’s Barcelona. It’s the best club in the world, it has great players, and great idols of mine have been here and great idols are here now. It has been an easy decision. I have dreamed of playing here many times. I’ve dreamed of scoring goals, winning games, wearing this shirt.”
In 20 days at last he will – for real this time.