Coutinho faces tough job winning back hearts at Liverpool

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LIVERPOOL (Reuters) – Liverpool will next week begin the task of reintegrating Philippe Coutinho into their squad as the fallout from Barcelona’s failed bid to sign the midfielder threatens to further destabilise his position at Anfield.

On Saturday the Brazilian was officially named in Liverpool’s 25-man Premier League squad for the rest of the season and is expected back, probably on Thursday, after Brazil’s World Cup qualifier in Colombia.

Although the 25-year-old has not spoken publicly after failing to secure his desired move, Neymar said his Brazilian team mate was feeling “disappointment and sadness”.

To an extent, Coutinho was caught up in a wider game that involved Liverpool making a public stand to stop the player drain that has previously seen Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Luis Suarez depart for Spain.

Barcelona were equally keen to make a statement of intent after Neymar’s rancorous departure, and identified Coutinho as the player most likely to fill that void.

Although Coutinho was keen, handing in a transfer request after developing a back injury that prevented him playing for Liverpool but not Brazil, his failure to force an exit has left him in an unexpected limbo.

In theory he will be available for Liverpool’s next game at Manchester City next Saturday, but without him Juergen Klopp’s side have impressed and he is unlikely to go straight into the team, particularly so soon after travelling back from South America.

A further complication involves his dealings with Klopp. The German never publicly criticised Coutinho — or questioned the legitimacy of his injury — but will be aware of the unnamed “family friend” who was widely quoted in media reports as saying their relationship had fractured.

Klopp always insisted that the decision not to sell Coutinho was taken by the owners, Fenway Sports Group, and there is clear anger at Liverpool at the way Barcelona conducted themselves over the affair.

Liverpool insist that Saturday’s claim by director Albert Soler that the club offered to sell Coutinho for 200 million euros ($237.14 million) is false. They say that Barcelona were consistently told the player was not for sale at any price.

Whatever happens with Klopp, Coutinho will face a struggle to restore his reputation among supporters, with large numbers taking to social media to express their unhappiness about a player who earlier this year signed a new five-year deal with the words: ”I signed this new contract to stay here for a few more years because it’s a great honour for me.

“It gives me great happiness because I was welcomed here with open arms by everyone at the club and the supporters right from my first day. I am very thankful to this football club for everything.”

But football has a way of moving on.

The transfer-that-never-was has evoked echoes of two years ago when Manchester United and Real Madrid fell out over the sale of David De Gea to the Spanish club.

On that occasion the deal fell through at the last minute with United, who had agreed to his departure, claiming Real failed to get their paperwork in order on deadline day.

Two years later, De Gea remains in United’s goal with the bizarre episode apparently forgotten. Liverpool will be hoping for a similar result over the next few months.