If Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho is Brazilian, which he is, and he has always idolised Ronaldinho, which he has, a certain free-kick taken in Shizuoka in 2002 comes in handy as a conversational icebreaker as another World Cup year approaches. "Of course he meant to score," Coutinho says, eyes widening in surprise at the suggestion that David Seaman might have been beaten from 40 yards by some sort of fluke. "I remember the goal well and I have seen it many times since. I am sure he was trying to score. I take a few free-kicks myself but I would never try something like that because it would be too far out for me to score from there."

The 21-year-old future Internazionale midfielder had just turned 10 at the time, though he had already identified Ronaldinho as a player whose style he admired and whose career he would keep a close eye on. "I like to smile when I am playing because I try to show people that I am enjoying myself and I think Ronaldinho did the same," he says. "I want to show that I have the same attitude to the game and personality that my hero had. I only ever met Ronaldinho once, at a charity event in Rio. Once every year he stages a game and invites different players and personalities to play and raise money for his charity. So I was thrilled to accept an invite but I have to admit I was really nervous. It was difficult to think straight when I got to meet the man who had been my idol but it was a great occasion and something I will always remember."

Tottenham's Sandro, one of four Brazilians who could be involved in Sunday's encounter at White Hart Lane, recently went further than the Liverpool player would ever dare and suggested Coutinho could be as good as Ronaldinho – a compliment Coutinho politely receives and just as politely rejects. "I would like to thank Sandro for what he said but I am a long way from Ronaldinho's level," he admits. "I really like Ronaldinho. He is the player I have watched the most and tried to copy the most but I am still learning."

That appears to be reflected in Coutinho's somewhat peripheral connection to the Brazil national team, with only one senior cap to his name and that from a friendly against Iran three years ago. He does not feature prominently in Luiz Felipe Scolari's plans for next summer. Indeed it could be argued that the 33-year-old Ronaldinho has more chance of a call-up and, when asked if he has been set any targets or offered any encouragement by the Brazil manager, he answers rather glumly in the negative.

He has not given up hope, however, believing there is still time, and in order to spur himself on on a daily basis he had his footballing philosophy inked on to his arm a couple of months ago. "Never stop dreaming," the tattoo reads. "That's what I believe," he says. "I also know you have to work hard to make the dream come true. I see football as a bit like a stairway and you have to climb it bit by bit. First you have to play good football so that you get to play for a good team. Then hopefully you achieve such a level that you are invited to play for your national side, in time for a World Cup, if possible. Then, obviously, play a good World Cup. That's my dream."

Should Brazil 2014 prove a tournament too early for Coutinho, the prospect of returning to the Champions League might be slightly more realistic. He played alongside Samuel Eto'o and Wesley Sneijder in one memorable Inter victory against Bayern Munich, though could not hold down a regular place and was eventually loaned out to Espanyol.

"Just because I have World Cup dreams does not mean I won't be concentrating on Liverpool – just the opposite," he says. "My main aim is to play well for Liverpool and only by doing that will I get the chance to play for Brazil. I feel I have improved already in terms of understanding the European game. Rafa Benítez helped me quite a lot with that, when I was at Inter. In Brazil, if you play where I do, you are not expected to track back or defend in any way. You are an attacker and that's it. Only technically are you part of a team. When I worked with Rafa he changed that mentality straight away. I became more of a team player rather than an individual, saw the game in a different way and was encouraged to move the ball a bit quicker and look for different passes. I have to say I think I prefer the European style now. You move faster, think more quickly and are involved in the game more. I felt comfortable at Liverpool straight away, the team has been playing with a great amount of freedom in attack and perhaps that is why I was able to adapt to English football quite quickly."

Coutinho will have to adapt to the hectic Christmas period in English football just as quickly, for Liverpool have lost Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge to injury, leaving them temporarily even more reliant on his attacking instincts. Though when you have Luis Suárez in the side, almost anything is still possible. "It is our dream to win the title. That is what we are working towards but the competition is still at an early stage yet," he says. "There are a few more games to play before we can make such a statement. Playing alongside Luis is an honour because he is such a fantastic player. He makes life for someone in my position easier because of how good he is."

The Uruguayan also specialises in making his team-mates' lives a misery, as Coutinho well knows. "He is always trying to nutmeg you in training. He hasn't succeeded on me yet. I try my best not to let it happen because he talks about it a lot afterwards."