Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers believes Philippe Coutinho was born to play for Barcelona.
Coutinho, 25, completed a £142m (Dh706m) transfer from Liverpool to the Nou Camp on Monday, making him the third most expensive player in football history.
The Brazilian international has signed a five-and-a-half-year contract with the La Liga leaders, bringing to an end a five-year spell with Liverpool in which the playmaker scored 54 goals in 201 matches.
“I’m not surprised (he’s gone to Barcelona)” said Rodgers in Dubai on Tuesday, where the Scottish league leaders are currently based for a mid-season warm weather training camp.
“If Phil was born to play for any club it was Barcelona. His style is perfectly suited.
“Every part of him as a football player and as a human being is suited for Barcelona. Technical ability, incredible, tactical concepts, if he plays in different positions, physically he has speed, he has strength, mentally – very stable boy emotionally.
“And he’ll carry the values of Barcelona because he’s such a good person. He doesn’t waste his time doing stupid things. He’s a good guy. He’s perfectly suited for them.”
Rodgers played a key role in his development, bringing Coutinho to Liverpool from Inter Milan in 2013 when he was only 21.
“When I took Phil into Liverpool he was playing in Italy, not in the team,” the 44-year-old, who managed the Reds between June 2012 and October 2015, said. “He was a young player and when we had the chance we brought him in for £8.5m from Inter Milan and then people wondered is he going to be physically big enough.
“I’d seen him play as a young player for Vasco de Gama and then Inter Milan and I’d seen him play at 18 with Wesley Sneijder and (Samuel) Eto’o, so you could just tell he was a player. He just needed the opportunity and he came over and he was phenomenal, obviously, in my time and then he continued.
“So it doesn’t surprise me (he has gone to Barcelona).
“Obviously it’s sad for Liverpool but they’ve made a huge investment in the player, got a huge return, and then he gets the chance to go and play with his mate, Mr Suarez. They teamed up very well and were very close when they played together with me at Liverpool.
“He’s in there with some of the best players in the world, so it’s a great move for him, (and) Liverpool have made a huge profit on a young player.”
Rodgers worked a lot with Coutinho when he arrived at Liverpool, shaping him in to the player he is today.
“When Phil first come in he needed to, believe it or not, defend better.
“I’ve always felt in order to attack well, you need to defend well – as a team – so he needed to understand that side of it. How to press, how to be aggressive.
“He was a magician with the football and he’s been that since he was 11 years of age. I’ve seen some of the old Futsal images of him and he was amazing.
“So he’s always had that, that has always been his strength, so it was a matter of ‘Okay how we can integrate that in the British game that is a more physically tough league.’
“So we would play him in various positions. Start him off as a wide player, play as a ten, he played as a false nine for me, as a striker – then play in midfield as a central.
“More work with the strength and conditioning team then his natural football strength came into it as he got adapted to the way of working. That was how he could develop in order to sustain the level of performance.”
Rodgers feels a sense of pride from bringing through not just Coutinho but several more promising stars who he has worked with early in their career.
“It’s what I love football for,” he said. “I think when I retire, I’ve always said, people will talk about trophies and all that side of it. My satisfaction comes from seeing the likes of Raheem Sterling, putting him in the team and then he moves for £49m.
“Bringing Luis (Suarez) in when I came to Liverpool and people talking about him ‘he doesn’t score’, ‘he doesn’t take enough chances’. In two seasons he gets his goals, gets his move.
“Putting Gylfi Sigurdsson in the team at Reading, bringing him to Swansea, watching him grow and develop. Joe Allen.
“That’s where I get my pride from, seeing players develop, learn. I try to bring in people who are coachable, hungry, willing to learn. If they’ve got those three things then you tend to find they grow naturally and you can help them improve.”
The Northern Irishman says Coutinho will be a “huge success” at Barcelona and sees him as a natural replacement for legend Andres Iniesta.
“I think he is the one player that can go in and genuinely (perform),” he said. “Iniesta’s a pleasure as a player, him and Xavi are incredible players. But if there’s a player that I can liken to Iniesta’s game in the world it’s young Phil.
“He’s different to Neymar, different type, he’s more the Iniesta type and obviously at 33 Iniesta’s game time is starting to become limited. Phil’s a natural successor.
“You couldn’t speak highly enough as Phil because as a person he’s an incredible guy.”
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane insists the team will not “go crazy” despite losing more ground on La Liga leaders Barcelona after a late header from Maxi Gomez earned Celta Vigo a 2-2 draw at Balaidos.
Los Blancos now trail their bitter rivals by 16 points, albeit with a match in hand, after Barcelona had earlier defeated Levante 3-0 at the Nou Camp before new £142million signing Philippe Coutinho was paraded for an official photocall.
Wales forward Gareth Bale, fit again following a calf problem, had scored twice in as many first-half minutes to seemingly put Real on course for victory after the hosts had taken the lead through a fine chip by Daniel Wass.
Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas then saved a second-half penalty from Iago Aspas before, with only eight minutes left, Gomez nodded in a deserved equaliser.
There was still time for Cristiano Ronaldo to lash an angled drive into the side-netting – and for Aspas to see what looked a strong shout for another penalty waved away after a clumsy challenge by Marcelo.
The result left Zidane once again facing questions about the direction of his team which last season had swept all before them en route to domestic and European success.
“Tomorrow will be another day and we will go back to work and think about the next matches.
The season is very long,” Zidane said at a press conference, as quoted on the club’s official website.
“We are not going to go crazy. I am the first one responsible.”
Zidane accepted his side had not done enough to secure all three points.
He said: “We are all a little angry with the result. Not with the first half, but with the second.
“We can’t be happy with that. There was room to play a better game because we didn’t play well for 90 minutes.
“We have to analyse our game in depth. We had many mistakes.
“We have to have more confidence in our possibilities.”
Midfielder Casemiro echoed the sentiments of the head coach.
“We’ve dropped two points and now we have to keep working because we know there’s still a long way to go,” the Brazilian said after the match, as quoted on realmadrid.com.
“At Madrid we never throw the towel in. If there’s one team that can turn this around it’s Real Madrid.
“We continue to work hard because we can do this and we believe in ourselves. We all need to be performing better.”
Lionel Messi marked his 400th appearance in La Liga with the opening goal as Barcelona eased to a 3-0 win over Levante at the Camp Nou on Sunday.
Messi’s 365th goal in Spain’s top flight came inside 12 minutes, with Luis Suarez adding the second before the interval and Paulinho completing the victory late on as Barcelona stretched their lead at the top of the table back to nine points over Atletico Madrid.
The Catalans are still unbeaten in La Liga this season and have Philippe Coutinho to come in, with the Brazilian expected to be officially unveiled as a Barcelona player on Monday following the announcement of his 160 million-euro ($192 million) move from Liverpool.
But it was Messi who broke the deadlock from a Jordi Alba assist, a combination that has proved fruitful on so many occasions this season.
The Argentine’s flighted pass found Alba, and the left-back headed the ball down for Messi, arriving in the area, to finish first-time in off the far post for his 16th league goal of the campaign.
The second goal arrived seven minutes before the interval, as Suarez controlled Sergi Roberto’s fine ball into the box before firing home.
It was the Uruguayan’s 400th professional goal, his 131st for Barca putting him seventh on the club’s all-time list of leading scorers.
Here, we rate the players from both sides.
Ter Stegen 6. A quiet afternoon in goal for the German, with Levante managing to send most of their few decent chances off target, but he did make one excellent save with his foot to deny Moore.
Roberto 7. Worked hard in the right-back position and came forward well to deliver an excellent cross for Suarez’s goal. Understandably, there was little sign of any chemistry with Dembele down the right. Later moved into midfield.
Mascherano 6. Received a very warm reception from home fans on what could be his last game before leaving for China. Made one poor clearance to give Ivi a chance but was otherwise solid and tenacious.
Vermaelen 6. Initially troubled by the pace and movement of Boateng, but grew into the game and made an excellent recovery challenge on the edge of his own area after a rare loose ball from Rakitic.
Alba 8. Another outstanding display by a player who has become arguably his team’s second-most attacking creator (after you-know-who). Teed up Messi for the opener with an overlapping run and tidy headed assist, and also carried out his defensive chores well.
Dembele 6. Looked lost early on but gradually became more settled in his right-wing role. Had a couple of chances to score, seeing one weak shot from a rebound blocked and forcing a good save after an incisive run. Swapped to the left wing near the end of first half and was replaced midway through the second. Overall a decidedly mixed bag.
Paulinho 6. Quiet but competent in the centre of midfield. Overran one chance in the dying seconds of the first half and continued making runs into the box right until stoppage time, when he completed the scoring with an easy finish from Messi’s cross.
Rakitic 7. A very assured performance in the defensive midfield position to replace the suspended Sergio Busquets. Showed positional discipline and a good range of passing, and came close to scoring by smashing a long-range volley just wide.
Iniesta 7. Made some timeless surges down the inside left channel, especially during the first-half, showing new signing Philippe Coutinho exactly what he has to replace. Less impactful later on and, as usual these days, substituted with 15 minutes left.
Messi 7. Far from his best performance, losing possession with unusual frequency. But he still scored the opener, went close with a couple of free-kicks, created Paulinho’s late goal and drew two yellow cards. So hardly a disaster.
Suarez 7. Had ‘one of those days’ early on, missing a couple of good chances by having one shot saved and firing another over the bar. But he made amends with a fierce finish for the second goal, and came close again in the second home. Worked his socks off, as always.
Semedo 6. Replaced Dembele midway through the second half, doing a decent job at right-back and getting forward to good effect on a couple of occasions.
Gomes 6. Replaced Iniesta for the final 15 minutes and showed one nifty flash of skill to beat his man inside the box and deliver a dangerous cross.
Arnaiz. Made his league debut by replacing Roberto for the final stages. The 22 year-old went onto the left wing but had little chance to make an impact.
Oier 7. The former Barca keeper punched clear an early Messi free-kick and made a couple of decent saves to deny Suarez. Had no chance with the goals.
Moore 5. The American right-back had his hands full with Alba and rarely got forward, but one exception came midway through the second half when he raced clear on goal and should have scored, but shot too close to ter Stegen.
Cabaco 7. The best defender for Levante, working hard to contain Suarez and making some important interventions inside the box.
Postigo 5. Got a deflection on Suarez’s shot for the second goal and earned a yellow card for a reckless scythe on Messi.
Luna 6. Containing the dual threat of Messi and Dembele meant he couldn’t get forward to his usual effect, but did a good enough job defensively in a stiff examination.
Doukoure 5. Summed up an ineffectual performance by steering his team’s last chance of the game over the bar from a good position. Little impact in defence or attack.
Lukic 6. Steady in the centre of midfield, regularly nullifying the runs of Paulinho and Messi towards the penalty area and generally using the ball well.
Lerma 4. Wasted two good chances by blazing the first over and dragging the second well wide. Booked for a wild lunge on Messi and was skating on thin ice before being substituted after an hour.
Jason 6. Little involvement in general play but did create his team’s best chance with a good run and well-weighted pass into the stride of Moore. Showed his talent but needed to show it more often.
Boateng 6. A hard-working and at times dangerous performance from the centre forward, who made a couple of penetrative early bursts to win corners and set up a good chance for Lerma. But ultimately lacking in end product and was replaced.
Ivi 7. Produced some nice touches down the left, had one dangerous shot deflected wide and forced an excellent save from ter Stegen with another powerful long-range strike. Levante’s brightest player.
Pier 5. Came on for final half-hour and certainly put himself about, making a couple of hard fouls on Messi and later getting booked for a late challenge on Rakitic.
Nano 4. Replaced Boateng in attack but was less effective than the man who started.
Samu. A late sub on the right wing but had little involvement.