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Philippe Coutinho left Anfield a superstar but returns with Barcelona a lost soul

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Philippe Coutinho could be forgiven for taking a plaintive look around Anfield on his return Tuesday night — even if, as looks probable, his Barcelona make it through to the final of the Champions League at the expense of his old club, Liverpool.

In the Portuguese of his native Brazil, there is an apt expression for the position in which Coutinho finds himself: “He was happy, and he didn’t know it.”

Sure, Coutinho was to some extent happy at Liverpool. So far, that is the club where he played the best football of his career, but he was not sufficiently happy to resist the chance to move to Barcelona.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Then again, how could a skillful Brazilian possibly refuse? For someone of his nationality and generation, there could be no destination so glamorous, and Barcelona wanted him!4

Barcelona’s original idea was to import Coutinho as a replacement for Andres Iniesta, but there are two catches. One is that Iniesta is irreplaceable. The other is that Coutinho was not the ideal replacement. He is not and never has been a midfielder in the complete sense of the word. He is an attacking midfielder or support striker, a player whose best work comes in the final third of the field.

At last year’s World Cup, Brazil switched him from the attacking three to the midfield trio, and it left the side dangerously unbalanced, with an alarming defensive vulnerability down the left side. The national team still seem confused about what to do with him.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde does not seem to share this confusion. He appears to have long since given up on Coutinho as an Iniesta substitute. Instead, the player has been competing with Ousmane Dembele for a place wide on the left of the attacking trio, at times retreating to become a fourth midfielder out on the flank.

Fitting Coutinho into the side, then, has proven to be a problem, and this in turn has proven difficult for the player’s temperament.

The Camp Nou is a big stage for big stars. Coutinho, though, comes across as a timid character. A feature of his career has been that taking a step up has not usually been easy. He failed badly for Brazil at Under-17 level, and though he won the Under-20 World Cup, he was a supporting member of a cast spearheaded by Oscar.

It took him years to settle in the senior national side. It is also worth remembering that there is an explanation for the fact that Liverpool picked him up at a bargain-basement price: Inter Milan had effectively given up on him.

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