Football | Coutinho and the Highs and Lows of Replacing an Expensive Player

Football | Coutinho and the Highs and Lows of Replacing an Expensive Player
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Liverpool have received £107 million for Philippe Coutinho, rising to £142 million with performance-related add-ons, as the Brazilian signed for Barcelona this transfer window

It is a blow to The Reds as the playmaker was in fine form this season, his average rating was the highest of any Premier League player, according to He had scored 7 goals and assisted 6 in just 14 Premier League games.

Liverpool have, at least, been well compensated for letting Coutinho go. While the transfer market may seem crazy following the sale of Neymar to PSG for £198 million, Coutinho still remains the second most expensive transfer of all-time and it is not money to be sniffed at.

Receiving that kind of money gives you freedom in the transfer market, which Barcelona have taken advantage of with the Neymar cash, signing Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé for £100 million fees. Liverpool have spent £75 million on defender Virgil Van Dijk, and have the imminent arrival of RB Leipzig’s Naby Keïta to look forward to next season for a deal close to £50 million.

Despite these transfers, Liverpool should have money to spend, and this kind of reinvestment after the sale of a key player can define the next 2-3 years of a club and beyond. Luckily, Liverpool have Jürgen Klopp, who has experience of replacing his best players well, replacing Nuri Şahin with İlkay Gündoğan, Shinji Kagawa with Marco Reus and Mario Götze with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Let’s look at a few other examples of how teams have benefitted and suffered after selling a player for a massive amount of money.




Inter Milan after Zlatan Ibrahimović

One of the great success stories following the sale of a key player came after one of the foolhardiest decisions in recent transfer history. Barcelona were determined to sign Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimović at any cost, with the final price of €69.5 million (£56 million) in 2009 seeming like an expensive but not outlandish offer for a proven striker at the peak of his powers. Yet the Catalans bizarrely threw in striker Samuel Eto’o as the ultimate sweetener, a player who had just scored 30 goals in La Liga and scored in the Champions League final.

Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho was happy for the gift from Barcelona, and immediately made Eto’o a key player in the side, and using the extra money to buy strike partner Diego Milito, and midfield general Thiago Motta from Genoa, centre-back stalwart Lúcio from Bayern Munich, playmaker Wesley Sneijder from Real Madrid, and winger Goran Pandev from Lazio. All would play important roles in the Champions League final that year, except Motta, who was suspended after being sent off against Barcelona in the semi-final.

Milito was voted UEFA Man of the Match in the final, while Wesley Sneijder was voted Fans’ Man of the Match. It was the greatest season in Inter Milan’s history, completing the historic treble, all funded by the sale of Ibrahimović.

Juventus after Zinedine Zidane

While they didn’t quite replicate the Champions League success of Inter Milan, Italian giants were exceptionally shrewd with their replacements of the great Zinedine Zidane. Back in 2001, the Frenchman was at the absolute peak of his powers and had won two FIFA World Player of the Year awards. He signed for Real Madrid for 150 billion lire (€77.5 million).

It was a tough task to replicate Zidane’s influence, and Juventus may have looked on enviously as he scored a stunning winner in the Champions League final the following year, but The Old Lady brought in three legends in response.

Gianluigi Buffon became the most expensive goalkeeper of all-time, but that money has been more than paid back, as the Italian is still Juventus’ number 1 keeper over 16 years later. Czech midfielder Pavel Nedvěd came from Lazio and would go on to win the Ballon d’Or when at Juventus, becoming so imbedded in the club that he would later join the board of directors. All-time great defender Lilian Thuram would spend five excellent years at Juventus. There would also be the flop Marcelo Salas, but his poor play would be offset by the emergence of free-scoring David Trezeguet.

Juventus would win four league titles in the next five years, before two would be removed because of the Calciopoli scandal, and they would reach the final of the 2003 Champions League.

Atlético Madrid after various star strikers


There may have been no better team at replacing star forwards in the top 5 leagues of Europe than Atlético Madrid over the past 10 years. Five different strikers sold by the Spanish club feature in the top 100 most expensive transfers of all-time.

The first big striker to be sold was home favourite Fernando Torres, who had captained the club at just 19. He left for Liverpool for €38 million in 2007, but Atlético made a swift move to bring in free-scoring Diego Forlán from Villarreal for €21 million. The decision was an inspired one as Forlán scored 86 goals in three seasons as Atlético won the 2010 Europa League.

Next to go was his strike partner and Argentine star Sergio Agüero, to Manchester City for €40 million in 2011. In came another star striker as a replacement, Radamel Falcao from Porto, who had just scored 18 goals in 16 games in the 2011 Europa League. Unsurprisingly, he would lead Atlético to more Europa League success the following year, as well as the Super Cup and Copa Del Rey the following season. Falcao scored a blistering 70 goals in his 91 games for Atlético.

Then Falcao was sold, for another big fee, €60 million to Monaco in 2013. Massive blow? Atlético would end up winning La Liga the following season, and only lost in extra-time in the Champions League final. David Villa was brought in for just €5 million, while Diego Costa scored a brilliant 36 goals in all competitions.

That means, of course, that Costa is on his way in the summer, to Chelsea for £32 million. But have to no fear because Antoine Griezmann is here. The Frenchman has been exceptional for the Madrid club as Atlético reached the 2016 Champions League final. Unsurprisingly, Griezmann is expected to leave soon for an astronomical fee. But don’t doubt Atlético’s ability to replace him again.




Tottenham Hotspur after Gareth Bale

After a long transfer saga, Real Madrid broke the transfer world record, buying Gareth Bale from Spurs for £86 million (€100.8 million) in 2013. The Welshman would have an immediate impact at Real Madrid, scoring in the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals in a memorable season for the Spanish giants.

The effect would also be found at Spurs, who had a poor season without Bale. Spurs eventually recovered to finish sixth, but after years of competing for Champions League places, they were never in contention. Manager André Villas-Boas was sacked in December after losing 5-0 to Liverpool.

Spurs spent £109 million on a series of underwhelming players. The only long-term success has been Christian Eriksen, who ironically cost almost the least of all their signings at £11.5 million. £26 million was spent on Roberto Soldado, who score 7 Premier League goals in 52 appearances for Spurs. Brazilian Paulinho came to the club with a big reputation following the 2013 Confederations Cup and was a complete flop. Nacer Chadli, Étienne Capoue and Vlad Chiricheș made very limited impacts. Injury-plagued Érik Lamela has had his moments but is not quite the star he was expected to be.

The unintended effect of the Gareth Bale sale, however, and the flops that followed was that it created the opportunity for Harry Kane and Dele Alli to thrive. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Liverpool after Luis Suárez


Liverpool would be wise to learn from the lessons of 2014 when they sold their star player, Luis Suárez, to Barcelona for £75 million (€82.3 million). The Uruguayan had just put in one of the greatest seasons in Premier League history, almost dragging Liverpool to the Premier League title with 31 goals in 33 appearances. Suárez was central to everything that the Reds did, he had 13 assists as well, and didn’t take many of the penalties he won, which led to Steven Gerrard ending up with 13 goals for the season.

Liverpool scored 101 goals in 2013/14. In 2014/15, they scored just 52, in what must be one of the biggest goal scored drops in a single season in league history, as they finished 6th. Liverpool bought Southampton’s Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli to replace Suarez in attack, with Divock Origi a signing for the future. Lambert and Balotelli scored 7 goals in 64 appearances between them. Lazar Marković has been an expensive flop, while Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno are regularly blamed for Liverpool’s current shoddy defensive record. Only Emre Can and Adam Lallana can be considered good signings, and even then their influence pales in comparison to Suárez.

Barcelona after Luis Figo

Made famous by the pig’s ear that was thrown at the Portuguese winger during El Clasico, Luís Figo made the hostile move across the divide from Barcelona to Real Madrid in 2000 for a world record fee £37 million (€62 million). Players had moved between La Liga’s two biggest clubs before but few incited as much anger as this one, Barcelona had sold one of the best players in the world to their bitter rivals. Figo had been there since 1995, and had been showing the kind of form that would lead him to win the Ballon d’Or later that year.

Barcelona has won La Liga in 1997/98 and 1998/99, and finished second in the league in 1999/2000. Real Madrid had finished fifth in the league, but crucially had won the Champions League and had begun their famous Galáctico policy. Real Madrid would win the league the following season with Figo, while Barcelona slipped to fourth, 17 points behind. Les Culés would finish fourth once more in 2001/02, then sixth in 2002/03 (22 points behind champions Real Madrid).

This was the result of a number of ill-fated attempts to replace Figo, and although Barcelona possessed the excellent and creative Rivaldo, they failed to supply him with quality. Marc Overmars came for £25 million and failed to replicate Figo’s impact on the wing. Gerard and Alfonso would arrive to limited effect. Barcelona wouldn’t become a force again until they signed Ronaldinho, three years later.

By David Gorman

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