Coutinho’s downward spiral: how it went wrong for Barcelona’s record signing

“All Barcelona fans, all around the world, are very excited about getting to know Coutinho,” said Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, as the Catalan club’s new record signing was presented at the Nou Camp in early January 2018.

“We have been trying to sign him since last summer, it has not been easy, other clubs were interested,” Bartomeu continued as Coutinho smiled shyly next to him on the podium. “The important thing is he wanted to come here, and has made a big effort to come here. One of the best players in the world is joining our club, and we are very happy.”

That welcome has not aged well.

Flush with the money from selling Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain for a world-record €222 million the previous summer, Barcelona could have targeted any player they wanted.

They fixed their gaze on Coutinho, and would not let go until Liverpool had haggled the fee up to €120 million, plus another €40 million in add-ons. For all that money, Barcelona have so far got 106 games, 25 goals, and 14 assists. Coutinho helped them win five trophies, and scored in a Copa del Rey final, and in a 5-1 La Liga Clasico victory over Real Madrid.

But the move has actually been a disaster, for the club and the player.

Coutinho is generally seen as the biggest transfer mistake in Barcelona’s entire 122-year history — a symbol of the worst presidency the club have ever had, and personally associated in different ways with two of the team’s most painful nights of all time.

At different times he was billed as a replacement for Neymar, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. But in no moment did he ever really step up and become a decisive or important player for the team.

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