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Barcelona to unveil Coutinho, the $192 million man

Barcelona (AFP) – Philippe Coutinho will be unveiled as Barcelona’s latest star recruit on Monday with coach Ernesto Valverde predicting the world’s third most expensive footballer will comfortably fit into a team already containing global superstar Lionel Messi.

The Brazilian playmaker was in the Spanish city on Sunday to tie up his 160-million-euro ($192 million) move from Liverpool but will only be presented on Monday to the media at 1130 GMT.

“Coutinho is a player who I think can bring a lot to us,” said Valverde. “He’s an important signing.”

Valverde admitted that it will be a challenge shoehorning the 25-year-old into a team which boasts the talents of Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta.

“We’ll wait until I see him train at least a day until we talk about all this. It’s true I have seen him play in various positions — on the right, the left, or in the middle, on the wings.

“We will evaluate all of this…but, of course, I don’t think he will play as a goalkeeper.” 

Spanish league leaders Barca beat Levante 3-0 on Sunday at the Camp Nou, but Coutinho was not in the stands with the club wanting attention turned solely on the match and not their new recruit.

But they still highlighted his arrival.

– 400m euro release clause –

“Bem-vindo! Welcome! Benvingut! ¡Bienvenido!” Barca tweeted to Coutinho along with a waving hand sign and a video showing a shirt bearing his name in a locker.

The swoop for Coutinho — which contains a 400-million-euro release clause — is the third biggest transfer in football.

It is outranked only by Paris Saint-Germain’s world record 222m-euro signing of Neymar from Barcelona last year, and PSG’s capture of French striker Kylian Mbappe for a deal that will eventually be worth 180 million euros.

Rio-born Coutinho arrived at Liverpool from Inter Milan for a mere £8.5 million ($11.5 million) in January 2013 and scored 54 goals for the club in all competitions, although he won no silverware during his five-year stay at Anfield.

One of the first Barcelona players to welcome the new recruit was compatriot Paulinho, who scored in Sunday’s win.

“He’s a great player, a magnificent player,” said 29-year-old Paulinho. “I am certain he will be a great help for Barcelona to reach their objectives.

“We hope to see him play with us as soon as possible.”

Barcelona had tried to sign Coutinho last summer and his departure is a blow to Liverpool as he had just returned to top form after an injury-hit start to the season, scoring seven goals in the last eight games of 2017 to put his side firmly in the Champions League places.

“It is no secret that Philippe has wanted this move to happen since July, when Barcelona first made their interest known,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

“Philippe was insistent with me, the owners and even his teammates this was a move he was desperate to make happen.”

For Barcelona, Coutinho’s signing allows the club to move on from the bitter experience of losing his Brazil teammate Neymar to Qatar-backed PSG last summer.

Coutinho’s age is highly attractive to Barca, whose three main stars — Messi, Suarez and Iniesta — are all in their thirties. Iniesta will be 34 in May.

– ‘What will he gain?’ –

French media group beIN Sports reported late Saturday that Liverpool will immediately spend 55 million euros of their windfall on Leicester City winger Riyad Mahrez.

However, reports in England said Liverpool’s main target to replace Coutinho is Monaco midfielder Thomas Lemar, who Arsenal tried to sign in August.

Former Liverpool defender Phil Thompson said his old club had probably got the better deal and questioned Coutinho’s decision to join Barca now because he will not be able to play in the Champions League for them this season having already appeared for Liverpool. Both clubs are in the last 16 of the competition.

“It’s hard to get my head around what Philippe is going to gain because he can’t play Champions League football for them, they are running away with the league, and he’s got the World Cup at the end of the season,” Thompson said on Sky Sports.

“Will he play regularly every week at Barcelona? I’m not too sure. Philippe could have carried on (at Liverpool). He could have been playing in the Champions League.”

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