BARCELONA, Spain, Jan 7 – Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho was in Barcelona Sunday to tie up a Sh19.9bn (160-million-euro) move from Liverpool, the third-richest deal of all time.
“Bem-vindo! Welcome! Benvingut! ¡Bienvenido!” Barca tweeted to Coutinho along with a waving hand sign and a video showing a shirt bearing his name in a locker.
Spanish league leaders Barca host Levante on Sunday at Camp Nou, but Coutinho will not be in the stands.
“He will not be attending the match,” a club source told AFP.
According to Catalan daily Sport, current La Liga leaders Barca want attention turned solely on the Levante match and not their new recruit, who should be officially presented to media on Monday.
The swoop for the 25-year-old attacking midfielder — which contains a 400-million-euro (Sh49.7bn)release clause — is the third biggest transfer in football.
It is outranked only by Paris Saint-Germain’s world record 222m-euro (Sh27.6bn) signing of Neymar from Barcelona last year, and PSG’s capture of French striker Kylian Mbappe for a deal that will eventually be worth 180 million euros (Sh22.4bn).
Rio-born Coutinho arrived at Liverpool from Inter Milan for a mere £8.5 million (Sh105.6mn) in January 2013 and scored 54 goals for the club in all competitions, although he won no silverware during his five-year stay at Anfield.
Barcelona had tried to sign him in the summer and his departure now is a blow to Liverpool as the playmaker has just returned to top form after an injury-hit start to the season, scoring six goals in the last seven games of 2017 to put his side firmly in the Champions League places.
“It is with great reluctance that we -– as a team and club –- prepare to say farewell to a good friend, a wonderful person and a fantastic player in Philippe Coutinho,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
“It is no secret that Philippe has wanted this move to happen since July, when Barcelona first made their interest known.
“Philippe was insistent with me, the owners and even his teammates this was a move he was desperate to make happen.”
For Barcelona, Coutinho’s signing will allow the club to move on from the bitter experience of losing his Brazil teammate Neymar to Qatar-backed PSG last summer.
Coutinho’s age is highly attractive to Barca, whose three main stars, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta are all in their thirties. Iniesta, at 33, has shown signs of fatigue this season.
– ‘What will he gain?’ –
French media group beIN Sports reported late Saturday that Liverpool will immediately spend 55 million euros of their windfall on Leicester striker Riyad Mahrez.
They claimed Mahrez will have a medical at Liverpool on Sunday before penning a four-year contract.
Reports in England though said Liverpool’s main target to replace Coutinho is Monaco forward Thomas Lemar, who Arsenal tried to sign before the season.
Coutinho played no role in Liverpool’s 2-1 victory over city rivals Everton in the FA Cup on Friday. Liverpool’s winning goal was scored by Virgil Van Dijk, the Dutch defender they signed last week from Southampton for £75 million, one of the biggest deals in history.
Former Liverpool defender Phil Thompson said his old club had probably got the better deal and questioned Coutinho’s decision to join Barca now because he will not be able to play in the Champions League for them this season having already appeared for Liverpool. Both clubs are in the last 16 of the competition.
“It’s hard to get my head around what Philippe is going to gain because he can’t play Champions League football for them, they are running away with the league, and he’s got the World Cup at the end of the season,” Thompson said on Sky Sports.
“Will he play regularly every week at Barcelona? I’m not too sure. Philippe could have carried on (at Liverpool). He could have been playing in the Champions League.”