Coutinho's cross ... Expectations high for Barca's latest Brazilian star
Expectations high for Barca's latest Brazilian star
BARCELONA, Spain (AP):
Philippe Coutinho arrives at Barcelona bearing both his huge price tag and the legacy of the long line of Brazilian stars who have dazzled at Camp Nou.
The comparisons will be constant with Neymar, whose world-record move to Paris Saint-Germain in August provided Barcelona with the up to US$192 million they needed to acquire Coutinho at a cost that would have seemed ludicrous just six months before. Only Neymar and PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe surpass it.
But while Neymar, as before him Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Romario, all became fan favourites by starring in Barcelona's attack, Coutinho will have to measure up to the Spanish club's long line of top-notch - and largely homegrown - midfielders.
The 25-year-old Coutinho comes to Spain charged with the daunting task of one day taking over as their midfield leader with Andres Iniesta entering the twilight of his career at age 33.
Coutinho can count on the big advantage of setting up Lionel Messi for goals as he strives to justify the club-record fee Barcelona agreed to pay on Saturday, when they finally pried him away from Liverpool after the English club had refused to let him go in the summer.
Even though coach Ernesto Valverde has successfully kept Barcelona winning after predictions of decline abounded following the unwanted departure of Neymar, Coutinho will greatly increase his options in a midfield that is still heavily reliant on Iniesta for its playmaking spark.
His signing signals Barcelona's intention to refocus on the patch of the pitch that has defined its passing style for decades, an emphasis that had slipped somewhat in recent years with Neymar, Messi and Luis Suarez forming a powerful attack, albeit sometimes at the expense of its ability to dominate possession.
"As a teammate and a friend, I'm very happy. I think he will help our team a lot," Suarez said yesterday after scoring in a 3-0 win over Levante. "He has spent several years playing at an elite level, and we will try to help him settle in quickly, since changing teams isn't easy. He has a profile that can fit well with this team."
"He is a player that can play both on the wings and in the middle of the pitch, and we will try to take advantage of that versatility," Valverde said. "It is an important signing."