If you had guessed Philippe Coutinho as Jose Enrique’s “best player in the Premier League in the second half of the season”, via liverpoolfc.com, then you would’ve been correct. Despite the source, it is still high praise considering who the Spanish full-back has played with and against this season.
It’s easy enough to make assertions like this after a season is over, but not so much before it begins. Factors like incoming transfers, the potential for injury, coaching changes and personal bias can muddle the tealeaves when it comes to predicting who a team’s top star will be.
Beyond the endorsement of a colleague, however, there is evidence from Philippe Coutinho’s half-season at Anfield that suggests he might be the man taking the Player of Year accolades next season.
In terms of popularity, the writing is already on the jersey. According to the official website, liverpoolfc.com, Coutinho is the most popular name on the back of the new home kit. Not that it translates to future output, but it does suggest that the Anfield faithful expect more out of him for the upcoming campaign.
The cost of securing a player’s services shouldn’t enter into expectations. But it does. The reported £8.5 million transfer fee that saw him move from Inter Milan to Liverpool borders on the larcenous. It also relieves the attacking midfielder of much of the pressure that heightened expectation brings. Being unfettered by that extra weight—a luxury not afforded to some of his teammates—might keep him a little looser come match time.
Coutinho was also quick to start making repayments on that sum. After playing only 13 minutes as a substitute in the forgettable game against West Bromwich Albion, it took him 46 minutes to score in his first full debut as a Red in the 5-0 drubbing of Swansea City. He went on to score two more.
It is his innate creativity, however, that puts him in a different class. The whoscored.com figure of 1.5 key passes per game might belie his vision in putting his teammates into space. His contribution in the assist category, on the other hand, highlights it. The Liverpool FC website credits the Rio de Janeiro native with five of them.
Considering that only Steven Gerrard had more, and that it took Coutinho 13 games in an unfamiliar league, it becomes a noteworthy achievement. And something that he will no doubt build upon next season with a full 38 opportunities to do so on offer.
And, barring injury, it does seem that he will get the better part of that number in the 2013/14 season. Brendan Rodgers has shown that he has confidence in the ex-Inter Milan player. He started the Brazilian in all but one of his 13 games, getting the nod in every game he was available for.
What was perhaps most impressive though, was the speed with which he adjusted to the rigors of the physical English game. Listed at 156 pounds, he is not the most imposing of presences.
But he adapted.
According to an ESPN FC article, he added bodybuilding into his training regimen to account for it. So along with position versatility, he can add situational and organizational adaptability to his impressive list of skills.
It is this commitment to improvement beyond simply honing his natural ability that will help him meet and exceed his potential at Anfield.