The Football Notebook
Has Coutinho Really Been a Failure?
Updated: Oct 8, 2020
145 Million Euros.
The world at his feet.
Philippe Coutinho was embarking on his life-long dream of playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world.
But fast-forward two-and-a-half years, and his market value has plummeted to almost a third of what it was, and no one wants to be involved with him.
So where did it all go wrong?
And has the Little Magician really been that bad after leaving Liverpool?
In the Blaugrana red-and-blue, Coutinho has 32 goal contributions in 76 appearances.
However, he has often appeared as a substitute, meaning that he only averaged 63 minutes for Barca per game. Put this all together, and you get a goal contribution almost every 151 minutes.
At Liverpool, he averaged a goal contribution every 150 minutes.
So when you just look at it from a goals-perspective, it does not look like he has done too bad.
So there has to be something else to justify the hate he has received, right?
Well, sort of.
When comparing his last full season at Liverpool in 16/17, his first full season at Barcelona in 18/19 and his current loan spell at Bayern in 19/20 all of which are in each domestic league we can understand what went wrong.
From the Table, we can see that Philippe Coutinho did not perform up to scratch at Barcelona. His xG and xA per 90 were slightly lower than when at Liverpool, but the main issue was the discrepancy between his xG + xA and his actual goals and assists. Every 90 minutes Coutinho managed 0.23 fewer goal contributions than expected in the league for Barcelona in 18/19, at just 0.3 per 90.
The reason this was such a big problem was that Coutinho has consistently overperformed the expected goal/assist stats throughout his career, often due to his cracker of a long shot meaning that he can score from anywhere, at any time.
In that poor season at Barca, these magical moments were far and few in between.
So Coutinho was shipped out on loan to Bayern Munich, where some say he has failed to perform once again.
This could not be further from the truth.
Both Coutinho’s expected goals plus assists and his actual goals plus assists are at a monstrous 0.9 per 90.
What that means is in every 10 full games the Little Magician takes part in, he is guaranteed to either score or assist 9 goals, at a rate of one better than when at Liverpool.
His dribbles per 90 and success rate have also gone back up to the levels they were at Liverpool, and although his key passes have gone from 2.6 to 1.9, the quality of the chance he creates has gone up, as shown by his xA per 90 going from 0.3 to 0.4.
So if we take a step back, we can see the full picture.
An in-form Coutinho riding high for Liverpool was signed by the Blaugrana, only for his form to dip after 6 months.
The hate started to come in, and he was quickly written off as yet another expensive failed signing by Barca.
But a move to Bayern rejuvenated his career, to the point where he is even outperforming his time at Liverpool.
So why is he still being regarded as a failed player?
Is it ignorance by the public? Pundits unwilling to dive in deeper? Or is it something else?
Really it's all three.
We all know a first impression is very important. Coutinho was pretty good during his first half-season at Barca, but not game-changing as many thought he would be.
As his form dipped in the ensuing season, so did his popularity.
His fans turned on him, the media jumped on the bandwagon with more and more controversial claims about Coutinho, and it went on and on.
So the Brazilian had had enough and acted out.
He stood defiantly, fingers in his ears, effectively telling the Blaugrana faithful that he doesn’t care what they say, as a celebration for a brilliant goal against Manchester United in the Champions League.
Had he not done that perhaps he would still be at Barcelona.
Because it was probably his best performance in the red-and-blue colours.
But from that moment onwards, there was not much he could do to win back the fans. And even as his performances peaked, his popularity was at its lowest.
Another huge factor which hindered Coutinho before he even stepped on the pitch for Barca was expectations.
He cost them €145 Million excluding add-ons - The 3rd highest ever transfer fee of all time when he signed.
He was meant to be Neymar’s short-term replacement and Messi’s future successor. However, very few players in history could fill that role, and unfortunately, Phillipe Coutinho was not one of them.
We can see this over-expectation being an issue in many cases - Joao Felix at Atletico Madrid(at least for now), Antoine Griezmann at Barcelona, Matthijs De Ligt at Juventus(again, just for now), and Ousmane Dembele at Barcelona.
But we all must remember that these players are human as well, and need time to adapt before we throw demands on their shoulders.
Now back to the first question.
Has Coutinho really been a failure?
No, absolutely not.
But his actions - that were somewhat justified - led to a spiral downwards in popularity that has unfairly made him the villain in many fans’ eyes.
The takeaway - football is a sport, and sports are just a form of entertainment.
And the fans always end up deciding who is or isn’t a failure.