Sir Alex Ferguson has previously expressed disappointment over Philippe Coutinho’s desire to leave Liverpool for Barcelona.
Coutinho is now back in the Premier League, on loan with Aston Villa for the rest of the season, but rewind four years and he was desperate to leave the division.
The Brazilian midfielder was one of the hottest players on the market back in the summer of 2017 and Barcelona were at the front of the queue for his services.
Coutinho was keen to leave Merseyside for Catalonia, but had a major problem: the five-year contract with no release clause he had signed in January 2017.
Liverpool held firm, rejecting three separate transfer offers from Barcelona over the summer, but the issue still cast a shadow over the start of their 2017/18 campaign.
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Coutinho put in a transfer request in August, but Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group responded by releasing a public statement.
“The club’s definitive stance is that no offers for Philippe will be considered,” it stated bluntly.
It was amid this context that Ferguson was discussing Coutinho’s situation in late August 2017 at the UEFA Elite Coaches Forum in Nyon, Switzerland.
“I think strong management is crucial in this situation,” the legendary former Manchester United manager said.
“Part of your job as a coach also is to educate your players’ character so they have a responsibility to what they’re doing.
“Obviously, in some cases, that is changing a bit. It’s disappointing because I’m sure that, in the case of Liverpool, they did a very good job in making Coutinho the player he is today.
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“So, it’s a bit disappointing but you have to deal with it and the transfer window doesn’t help in that situation.
“If it closed in July, Coutinho would have continued playing and it would have been gone. The matter would have been over.
“The recommendation we look at is to close the window before the season starts, so everyone knows which players they’ve got and aren’t waiting to see what the first results are going to be.”
Liverpool held firm, keeping Coutinho beyond the closing of the window on August 31, 2017, but the issue did not disappear.
Although Coutinho returned to the team and continued to perform well for Jurgen Klopp’s side, with 12 goals and nine assists in 20 appearances, his mind was not changed.
The saga dragged on throughout the start of the 2017/18 season, and by the time the January transfer window came around, Liverpool decided to change their firm stance.
Coutinho was sold to Barcelona on January 6, 2018, for an initial fee of £106million, with a further £36m potentially due in add-ons.
As the Spanish club likes to do with their biggest stars, Barca immediately slapped a £355m (€400m) buyout clause in his contract.
Liverpool manager Klopp made it clear that the club had only sold the Brazilian, who contributed 54 goals and 45 assists in 201 appearances, reluctantly.
“It is no secret that Philippe has wanted this move to happen since July, when Barcelona first made their interest known,” he said in a statement.
“Philippe was insistent with me, the owners and even his team-mates this was a move he was desperate to make happen.
Despite that, we managed to keep the player here beyond the summer window, hoping that we would be able to persuade him to stay and be part of what we are looking to do.
“I can tell the Liverpool supporters that we, as a club, have done everything within our means to convince Philippe that remaining part of LFC was as attractive as moving to Spain, but he is 100 per cent certain his future – and that of his family – belongs at Barcelona.”
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That certainty began to fade quite quickly and Coutinho was sent out on loan to Bayern Munich for the 2019/20 season.
Now after making just 106 appearances for Barcelona, he is back in the Premier League alongside his former Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard.
Aston Villa have the option to make his move permanent for £33m in the summer, so his time as a Barcelona player could be about to come to an end.