Philippe Coutinho's 'dream' a reality as Brazil midfielder unveiled at Barcelona
BARCELONA -- It has been a long time in the making but on Monday Philippe Coutinho's dream finally came true. The Brazil international hoped to become a Barcelona player last summer but Liverpool's reluctance to sell at the time kept things on ice. On Saturday, though, the Premier League club finally relented, agreeing to a fee that could reach €160 million to allow the 25-year-old to move to Camp Nou on a five-and-a-half-year deal.
Coutinho flew into Barcelona late on Saturday but was shuttled out of a private door at El-Prat airport and kept hidden until the following day. He watched his new teammates beat Levante from his hotel room before finally being driven to Camp Nou on Sunday, where he waved to the media, took a tour of the museum and spoke about fulfilling his "dream" -- a word used effusively throughout Monday, too -- of moving to Barca.
But if Coutinho was excited, he wasn't the only one. There were 7,436 supporters, many draped in Brazil flags, inside Camp Nou on Monday to see him take his first steps at his new ground. Despite having a thigh injury that will rule him out for around three weeks, delaying his eagerly anticipated debut, he was still able to do a few loose kick-ups and knock a ball around with some local kids in his new shirt.
More than 200 journalists had ascended on the stadium, too. So many, in fact, that Coutinho's news conference was moved from the media room to the Auditori 1899 to fit everyone in -- an honour not even afforded to Luis Suarez in 2014.
People going crazy for Coutinho... and ask vice president Mestre to get out of the photograph... pic.twitter.com/ir18Ir1OrP— Samuel Marsden (@samuelmarsden) January 8, 2018
Coutinho's smile did not leave his face all day. From the moment he visited the training ground in the morning -- where he met a few of his new teammates -- to the moment he left his news conference in the afternoon, he appeared completely relaxed.
At times he did appear a little shy, but he was aided by the presence of his family. His partner, daughter and parents were among the sea of bodies watching his every move and helped him feel a little more at home in front of a room full of new faces.
WHAT HE SAID
The usual platitudes were reeled out. The word "dream" worked overtime as Coutinho thanked God and his family for sticking with him through the good times and the bad times. There were also thanks for Barcelona for their patience and for Liverpool, too, for everything they have given him during the last five years.
In leaving Liverpool, Coutinho becomes Barcelona's record signing and the second most expensive player ever, at least until Paris Saint-Germain complete the signing of Kylian Mbappe from Monaco for €180m in the summer.
"It's an honour to be club's record signing," Coutinho said when asked if big money meant big pressure. "But the money is something between the clubs. I have my own objectives: to come here, win games, titles and to enjoy myself."
Neymar is the only player to have cost more. He's also someone Coutinho knows well. The two have been friends for over a decade and are both key pieces of Tite's Brazil team. Coutinho says he has exchanged words with the €222m PSG winger, but insisted he has not come as a replacement for him.
"I have spoken with Neymar, he congratulated me," he said. "He told me about the city, about the players and about how incredible the dressing room is... [But] me and Neymar are different players. He's a great player but we have different characteristics and I have come here to find my own place."
Coutinho also spoke about his friendship with Luis Suarez. The two played together at Liverpool, coming close to winning the league under Brendan Rodgers, and the Uruguayan striker has already helped his new teammate find a home in Castelldefels, a beach town down the coast from Barcelona when Lionel Messi and other players live.
"Luis a great player, I played with him at Liverpool and I am really happy to play with him again," he said. "We've kept in contact. He writes to me a lot, he's a close friend and he's been a big help. It's an honour to play with him again."
When your son is worth €160 million pic.twitter.com/ma88JSMFAI— Samuel Marsden (@samuelmarsden) January 8, 2018
WHAT BARCA SAID
Coutinho wasn't the only one to take the microphone, there were also brief comments from Josep Maria Bartomeu and vice president Jordi Mestre. Bartomeu labelled Coutinho one of "the world's star players" and thanked him for his effort in helping the move come to fruition, revealing he turned down offers from other clubs.
"It's not been easy, but Coutinho was happy to come here and his effort and patience has been key in getting him here," the president said. "There were other clubs interest in him, but his desire to come here has seen him become the latest part of [Ernesto] Valverde's project."
Mestre explained that the reason the deal was able to be done now, as opposed to the summer, was because Liverpool had lowered their demands -- Barca have previously claimed the English side wanted €200m last August. He also thanked Coutinho for his effort not just on a personal level, but also on an "economic level," suggesting the reports he'd given up a signing-on bonus were accurate.
WHERE WILL HE PLAY?
Valverde has already spoken about Coutinho's versatility, saying the playmaker will improve the team in attack. However, it's not clear exactly where he will play. An Andres Iniesta-like midfield role, perhaps? Or shoe-horned into a crowded attack already featuring Suarez, Lionel Messi and €105m summer signing Ousmane Dembele.
"Iniesta, for me, is a genius and it will be an honour to play with him and learn from him" Coutinho said when asked if he had joined the club to replace the Spain international, who is 34 in May.
"In terms of positions, what I'm most looking forward to is being here and playing for Barca. Everything else is a question for the manager. I will work really hard to be available for him. I am so happy, so are my family. It's the biggest club in the world and some great Brazilian players have played here. I hope to contribute to even more success."
"[Liverpool's] directors understood it was my dream, they would have liked me to stay, but my dream to come here and they understood. They were men of their word." On Liverpool letting him leave after five years at Anfield.
VERDICT OUT OF 10
9/10 -- Coutinho said all the right things and there's a real feeling that he can take his game to the next level in Catalonia. The idea, whether it was forced or not, that he turned down other clubs and took economic sacrifices to come to the club gets him started on the right footing with the supporters, too.
So why did he make those sacrifices?
"That's easy," he said. "Because it's Barca, the best club in the world. Some of my biggest idols have played here or are playing here now. It was an easy decision."
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.