Judging the huge smile on his face at Monday’s unveiling to match the eye-watering price paid, you could be forgiven for thinking Philippe Coutinho’s path to Barcelona had been unchecked.
But the journey to becoming the third-most expensive footballer in history at €160 million (Dh703.8m) has not been simple.
It has included a startling burst of nascent talent, being lost in a foreign land, a rejuvenation and one of the most-calamitous decisions in modern sporting history.
Here, Sport360° picks out the three key moments on the playmaker’s path to Camp Nou.
Intrepid times at Vasco don’t travel to Inter
Starring alongside fellow supreme prospect Neymar for Brazil’s storied youth sides, being snapped up by Italian royalty Internazionale for €4 million (Dh20.7m) at 16 and gaining promotion for boyhood club Vasco Da Gama at 17 after their first-ever relegation; there seemed no end to the upwards curve Coutinho was experiencing.
Yet the dream move to a European giant aged 18 for 2010/11 was soon to turn into a nightmare, albeit a formative one.
It was the lessons learned during a trying debut season at the San Siro which have formed the sublimely talented but spiky competitor we see today.
“Everything I went through there helped shaped me,” Coutinho told CNN last year. “I had some injuries, limited game time and things were not going my way but this was a very, very important period for me.
“It was the hardest point of my career because it was the first time I had been away from home and I had to start proving myself from scratch.”
This mixture of culture shock, intense competition for places, Inter’s disintegration and a troublesome knee injury appeared to break him. Not even the presence of his family, who left their lives in Rio de Janeiro to live with him could help.
Countinho was much heralded as “the future of Inter” by head coach Rafael Benitez, but rarely seen. In his 20 fitful run-outs across all competitions he scored a – soon-to-be-trademark – free-kick in a 3-1 Serie A win against Fiorentina and assisted two further efforts for Samuel Eto’o.
Flashes of brilliance, but this bit-part player needed a regular stage.
A brilliant first taste of Barcelona
For Coutinho’s career to vibrantly spark into life, something had to change.
In what he will hope is a sign of things to come, the city of Barcelona was to provide the point of ignition. But rather than the rock star’s reception which awaited him this weekend from dozens of fans and journalists, in January 2012 he was an unheralded recruit on a half-season loan to lesser-lights Espanyol.
From prodigal teenager to forgotten talent, Coutinho had made just eight appearances in the frustrating early months of his second season in Milan under both the unimpressed Gian Piero Gasperini and Claudio Ranieri. He was well behind the likes of Netherlands playmaker Wesley Sneijder, washed-up Uruguay icon Diego Forlan and even flimsy Argentine talent Ricky Alvarez, a solitary goal coming when finding the bottom corner in a 2-1 Serie A triumph against Cagliari.
It might have been this moment which convinced then Periquitos boss Mauricio Pochettino to take a punt in January, or simply the parlous state of the Catalans’ finances necessitating a need to gamble. Either way, his temporary recruit was soon proving a revelation.
Linking up with the likes of Nigeria forward Kalu Uche or cultured Spanish veteran Joan Verdu, a sense of joy reappeared. Highlights were plentiful as he scored five goals and notched one assist in 16 run-outs, a sublime volley against Racing Santander and precision free-kick against Malaga the highlights.
Common sense detailed his breakthrough at Inter was now, surely, a matter of time. Staggeringly, it was never to come.
Moving to the Mersey beat
The final years of Massimo Moratti’s ownership of Inter were detailed by ruinous missteps and perplexing errors of judgement.
There was, arguably, none bigger than sanctioning Coutinho’s £8.5 m (Dh50.2m) sale to Liverpool in January 2013. This followed being given just three starts and seven cameos in Serie A by head coach Andrea Stramaccioni, despite his exploits in Spain.
Of all the circumstance to get Coutinho where he is now, then Reds manager Brendan Rodgers’ call to snap him up is the pivotal moment of his playing career to date.
It led Coutinho to becoming one of the Premier League’s best players, this boost of belief and confidence making him positioned to be Brazil’s starting playmaker at World Cup 2018 as Barca’s most-expensive signing.
From his 54 goals in 202 matches on Merseyside, several stand out.
There was the winning goal against Manchester City in April 2014 which seemed to guarantee the end of the club’s painful title drought only for ‘Crystanbul’ and Steven Gerrard’s slip to intervene. Who could forget a pair of long-range strikes in a 3-1 win at Chelsea in October 2013, or the stunning start to 2016/17 at Arsenal?
To his credit, the machinations about a failed summer move to Barcelona did not impinge him this term. He heads to Camp Nou in the form of his life, having scored 12 goals and registered nine assists in 20 appearances in 2017/18.
Pep Guardiola says Manchester City must match Manchester United and Liverpool by winning trophies in order to become one of the game’s giants – and dazzling football is not enough.
The runaway Premier League leaders maintained their relentless charge in four competitions by sweeping into the FA Cup fourth round at Burnley’s expense on Saturday.
They are now eyeing a place in the League Cup final as they host Championship side Bristol City in the first leg of their semi-final on Tuesday.
“A win helps to win more, then we are there, going to go to London to play the final,” said the City manager.
“It’s important (to win trophies). To become a big club like the teams I have faced, or teams like (Manchester) United or Liverpool, with a really big history, you have to win.
“Nobody can take away what we have lifted so far – the pleasures from this team of the last three or four months, they belong to us. In the process, when you live in good moments, I say to the players, ‘Enjoy it’. It is so complicated it may not happen again.
“But after, of course, to give real value to what we have done so far, what we are going to do in the future, you have to lift the titles. Without that, it’s OK, it’s good, but not enough.”
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss was pleased to see Leroy Sane back on the scoresheet in the 4-1 victory against Burnley.
The winger has been one of several standout City performers this season but the strike was the 21-year-old’s first since October and Guardiola feels he still has much to do to reach his full potential.
“He has a special talent,” said Guardiola. “Of course it was important to score another goal. We need his goals, but also his assists, crosses, how he defends backwards.
“He made a lot of very good things but at 21, 22 years old – I met only one player in my life at that age who knew absolutely everything and he could do absolutely everything. The other guys have many, many things to improve, and Leroy especially.”
Liverpool must move quickly to replace Philippe Coutinho, former Reds striker John Aldridge has warned.
Coutinho headed to Barcelona on Saturday night after Liverpool accepted a British record bid, worth up to £142million, from the Catalan club.
The 25-year-old Brazil international, who arrived at Liverpool from Inter Milan for £8.5million in January 2013, scored 54 times for the Anfield side.
“I am not surprised but disappointed he [Coutinho] is leaving because he is a fantastic player to watch,” Aldridge told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sportsweek programme.
“£140million is a lot of money and Liverpool have to spend it wisely.
“They have spent £75million of it wisely on Virgil van Dijk – a player we have needed for some time in a leader at the back – but he [Coutinho] needs replacing and we have got to do it ASAP.”
Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez – a key player for the Foxes when they won the Premier League back in 2016 – has been linked as a potential candidate to fill Coutinho’s shoes.
And Aldridge, who scored 63 times for Liverpool, believes the Algeria international must be considered.
Whether it's a good deal for #LFC all depends where they go and spend that money. Club adamant that Mahrez isn't lined up as Coutinho's replacement.— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) January 6, 2018
“If you look at the way Coutinho plays, he [Mahrez] is very similar,” Aldridge added. “He is older, he has played in the Premier League for some years and everybody has seen the ability he has got, so he ticks a lot of boxes.
“You need that type of player similar to Coutinho who sees that pass, can do something extraordinary outside the box, can bend it in the top corner and is good on free-kicks as well.”
Provided by Press Association Sport