Philippe Coutinho becomes 'a proper Brazilian' for Liverpool

The 20-year-old from Rio knows the importance of the attacking No10 role and hopes to have a long career at Anfield

A flamboyant flick with the heel sent José Enrique scurrying clear, completely fooled the opponent and left Anfield purring in approval. It was the first sign that Liverpool had acquired in Philippe Coutinho "a proper Brazilian," as his compatriot Lucas Leiva put it. "Like the fans were probably expecting when I signed." There cannot be a misunderstanding with Liverpool's new No10.

"I know the importance of the number 10," says the 20-year-old from Rio, who cites Kaká and Ronaldinho as role models. "In Brazil the one who wears 10 constructs the attacks. That is what I will try to do here. The number I have at Liverpool does not give me any added pressure. The pressure I have is to play well and do my best for the team. I know that I am representing a huge club and I want to enjoy my football."

The shirt number reflects the faith that Liverpool have invested in Coutinho, along with the £8.5m paid to Internazionale for him in January, of course. The aforementioned piece of skill arrived early in the recent 5-0 defeat of Swansea City, when the Brazilian marked his full debut with a fine goal, a part in the flowing team move that produced the third for José Enrique plus several eye-catching exchanges with Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suárez – as well as a standing ovation when he left the field on the hour. The manager, Brendan Rodgers, would welcome a repeat at Wigan on Saturday having insisted Liverpool's season did not end with the Europa League exit against Zenit St Petersburg five days later.

Swansea's style suited the young Brazilian, who was ineligible to face the Russian champions, just as Michael Laudrup's much changed team ahead of the League Cup final suited Liverpool. It was different on his first appearance against West Bromwich Albion when Gareth McAuley scored moments after his late introduction and a slight forward line of Coutinho, Suárez, Fabio Borini and Raheem Sterling chased the game in vain. "The football is quite different to what I'm used to because you have to be much quicker here," he admits. "The pace is much quicker than Italy or Brazil. In Brazil we play quite open but I'm doing my best to adapt as quickly as I can."

If there was bemusement at Liverpool's January purchase, it was not of Coutinho's making or a reflection on his potential. Prior to the signing Rodgers had spoken frequently of the need for experience, leaders and "men" at Liverpool before a small 20-year-old who does not speak English became the club's last recruit of the window. His talent and willingness to learn offer compensation.

"In Brazil the Premier League is followed more than any other [foreign league] and everyone says it is the toughest league in the world," says Coutinho through a translator. "The difference I've noticed is you have to be a quick thinker and move around much sooner because the pace is so much higher. I need to improve my muscles because they are still quite small at the moment. Of course it can be a challenge but before I came here Lucas told me about the style of play. To me it is a challenge and I wanted to deal with it as quickly as possible."

So he is not unduly concerned about a robust introduction to the Premier League? "I'm quite calm about that," he says. "If I get kicked, I will get up and carry on playing." Would he retaliate? "No, I have to score the goal first."

Coutinho has adapted quickly off the pitch following the move from Milan, moving into a house with his wife and two brothers, Leandro and Cristiano, that previously belonged to another Liverpool import from Brazil, Fábio Aurélio. "He left it nice and tidy," he says. It has helped having Lucas around for the cultural shift. Liverpool's defensive midfielder has adopted a paternal role with Coutinho off the pitch. "I feel like a father to be honest," he said. "He is in the same situation as I was when I came to Liverpool, very young and doesn't understand the language."

Lucas was also instrumental in the transfer. "I never spoke to the manager before I signed," Coutinho explains. "But I spoke for a long time with Lucas and he explained the methods here. Lucas passed me all the information I needed. He told me how the club works, the style and the structure of the club and how we play. When I signed I already had all the background information I need."

Liverpool have bought rich promise in Coutinho, albeit promise that has struggled to match the hype that surrounded his emergence at Vasco da Gama and intensified when Internazionale paid €4m to sign him at 16. He was restricted to 15 starts in Serie A, spent a season on loan at Espanyol under Mauricio Pochettino, the new Southampton manager, and at 20 is starting anew in a fourth country.

Coutinho admits: "I need to spend some time at a club but I also need to enjoy my football to play my best. I didn't lose my enjoyment at Inter. Sometimes I was disappointed because every player wants to play but I always did my best for Inter. That is why I reached a huge club like Liverpool. I am in the middle of huge players here and I want to carry on learning my trade, doing my best and enjoying my football.

"Hopefully I will have a long career at Liverpool. That is what I am hoping for but it all depends on many things."

comments powered by Disqus