When Liverpool completed their remarkable journey to the Champions League final, some minor trolling of Philippe Coutinho took place.
Not least from John W Henry, ahead of the defeat by Real Madrid.
“They’ll be watching this weekend,” the Liverpool owner said, referring to ex-Reds Coutinho and Luis Suarez, “and could have been playing. I have a difficult time understanding why anyone would want to leave Liverpool.”
It should not be that difficult when the destination is Barcelona.
The myriad reasons could include money, lifestyle, family, language, climate.
Take your pick.
You will also be playing alongside some of the world’s best players.
Liverpool made it to that Champions League final, but Barcelona have more world-class players on their books than they do.
That is stating the obvious.
With the influence of Lionel Messi and Suarez, Coutinho will improve.
He already has, if his form in the group stages of this compelling World Cup is anything to go by.
Arguably Brazil’s best performer, he should have made everyone’s team of the tournament for the first phase.
While the Champions League adventure eased the pain of losing him, this World Cup should remind Liverpool supporters of what a blow his departure was. Maybe not as big a blow as when Suarez left, but a major one all the same.
World Cup 2018
It should also underline just how brilliant a job Jurgen Klopp did in taking his team to Kiev while also finishing in the top four.
And the part in Coutinho’s development played by Liverpool should not be understated. The toughness to go with the technique was developed at Anfield and in the Premier League — just as the flintiness to go with the finesse of Real Madrid’s Luka Modric was developed at White Hart Lane and in the Premier League.
In a Croatia team that has thrilled the tournament, Modric has been another outstanding performer here, continuing in the same string-pulling form that was too much for Liverpool in that Champions League final.
Obviously, it is not wise to start mapping out the rest of the tournament – such are the vagaries of knockout football – but you would expect Croatia and Brazil to get past Denmark and Mexico, respectively.
For Croatia that would probably mean a quarter-final against Spain and, if successful, a semi-final against England, of course.
Oops, sorry – against England or Colombia or Sweden or Switzerland.
Croatia, inspired by Modric, must be the dark horses for eventual triumph, while Brazil, made to tick by Coutinho, are worthy favourites.
Their imperious play at the World Cup is a stark reminder that, while the Premier League is the richest and possibly most exciting domestic club competition on the planet, the pulling power of the two Spanish giants remains irresistible.
At the World Cup, they are the two most influential clubs.
But Modric and Coutinho should also symbolise England’s biggest long-term challenge, a challenge shared by the clubs: Find and develop an English Modric or an English Coutinho.
For England to win this World Cup, they will have to rely on a tactical masterplan, youthful athleticism, set-pieces, pace, good defending, Harry Kane and luck.
They might still do it.
But, in the future, doing it with a Modric or a Coutinho would be a whole lot easier.
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