Liverpool supporters everywhere are not keen on the idea of losing duo Philippe Coutinho and Emre Can at the end of the season. Or sooner.
Barcelona continue to chase a deal for Coutinho and are showing no signs of giving up on the pursuit they began with a trio of, immediately rejected, offers back in the Summer. The Brazil international handed in a transfer request in August in a bid to force through an exit so that he could join the club that appears to appeal most to South American players. He cited a back injury as reason he couldn’t feature for the team before going on international duty and returning to Jurgen Klopp’s squad after the transfer window closed. He has missed recent games against Maribor, Huddersfield Town and West Ham United before again joining up with his national side. And his ability to reach fitness when the Samba Boys are playing but not always when the Reds are in action hasn’t gone unnoticed. It may be coincidence, but Liverpool fans are keeping an open mind about what might be on the agenda.
The situation for Germany international Emre Can is different. He has just half a season left on the contract he signed when he arrived from Bayer Leverkusen back in the Summer of 2014. But there is no sign of an extension being agreed and speculation continues to run rife that he could be set to jump ship, with several heavyweight clubs rumoured to be interested in his services. Juventus have held a long-standing interest in his services and saw a lowball Summer offer rejected by Liverpool. Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United are other clubs who have been linked with free transfer moves for him next Summer.
It’s a worrying time for fan and manager alike, with two of the players who appear of high importance to Klopp edging towards the exit at Anfield. But why would they want to pack their bags and head for pastures new?
Both have said that they want to win trophies, and the medals that go with them, in their career and have stated their determination to bring silverware to the club. But neither has been able to lift a single cup or take home a winners’ medal since they arrived at the club – almost five years ago in Coutinho’s case and just over three in Can’s. Both are in the early stages of their careers still, but they’re heading towards their peaks and they want assurances that they will be collecting the prizes when they’re handed out each season. Aside from coming agonisingly close to the league title in 2014 (in Coutinho’s case) and a couple of cup final appearances at the back end of the 2015/16 season, they’ve not had much chance to start gathering medals. And that has to be a major issue when trying to persuade the two of them that they’re best served sticking around the place.
Klopp is a wonderful persuader and he inspires confidence from those who play for him and support his team. But his honeymoon period is over at Anfield after two years and the team doesn’t look an obvious contender for the type of trophies that Coutinho and Can want to be lifting. Manchester City are streets ahead of the pack in the Premier League, while a tilt at the Champions League looks a very optimistic expectation even for those who believe lightning can strike again after Istanbul in 2005. It would take a huge effort for this squad to challenge for the two trophies that matter most at home and on the continent. But few expected them to be challenging for the big prizes at the start of the season, so how can anyone complain that this success isn’t forthcoming?
Coutinho and Can don’t have a divine right to success either – and that is something that has and will be pointed out by fans around the globe. But it won’t hold much weight when they each have offers to go and play for clubs whose immediate prospects look a lot brighter than ours. Barcelona lead the La Liga table, despite losing Neymar, and are perennial contenders in the Champions League too. While Paris Saint Germain and Real Madrid, both current champions in France and Spain respectively, are keeping a close eye on Coutinho and Can is being linked with moves to clubs who also top their tables and/or win titles with regularity. Meanwhile, Liverpool haven’t won the domestic title since 1990 and have been European champions once in the past thirty-three years, albeit twelve years ago. But it isn’t just those stats that put the club’s stature in doubt – after becoming regulars in the Champions League for a spell under Rafa Benitez and Gerard Houllier, the club have managed to qualify just twice since the Spaniard left Anfield back in 2010. Title challenges are even harder to spot since the club last became English champions twenty-seven years ago, with a handful of genuine tilts at ending the drought in that period. Another setback to aspirations of becoming top dogs again is the sheer quantity of competition in England – where Klopp realistically needed to topple Bayern to succeed in Germany, he has five rivals of similar might to fight his way past here.
Foreign players are less likely to show loyalty to the club when they’ve jumped ship to move here in the past from other clubs who would’ve liked to have kept them around for longer. Coutinho will no doubt have been dreaming about becoming a Barcelona player back in his childhood – a childhood that began after Liverpool last won the title. While Can will also be considering his options with similar ideas of attaining glory at clubs who have much more chance of providing it to him than we do. Unfortunately. It is hard to be so blunt and stark in honesty about the club I grew up supporting back in the eighties, but the kind of dominance I witnessed in my youth are long gone and the reputation that was built with it has been on the wane in recent times. Modern players are more likely to seek out contracts that offer top money as much of a guarantee of success as is possible in the game. The likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint Germain, Bayern Munich and Manchester City are in a position to lure our star players away – and most of them have in recent years. The only way to stop this happening is by winning more trophies, with just one coming in the form of the League Cup in the past eleven years, and being a regular in the Champions League once again. But that would be a lot easier to achieve if players didn’t decide that the grass is greener elsewhere.
The club has the right man in charge. Klopp has shown that he can overhaul the heavyweights in the past when he took Dortmund to two Bundesliga titles and a Champions League final. But he’s going to need time, patience, loyalty and cash to do it. The supporters can influence the first two, along with the players, while FSG need to put up the funds for him to bring in the right players. He proved, along with Michael Zorc, at Dortmund that you don’t need to sign star names to attain success. But he’s going to need to get the players he wants for the right prices to be able to make his way past his five biggest rivals in the Premier League.
Liverpool supporters everywhere will be hoping that he can do it. But it might not be until the likes of Coutinho and Can have moved on and players more dedicated to the club have replaced them.