Philippe Coutinho: Everything Liverpool Fans Need To Know About Pato MK: II
Ronaldinho once tipped Philippe Coutinho to shine as the future of Brazilian football and Inter president Massimo Moratti was so impressed with the then 18-year-old when he witnessed the teenager in early training sessions that he felt confident he had found a player who could fill the boots of Manchester City-bound Mario Balotelli.
That was over two years ago and since then the mop-haired striker-cum-winger has become something of a poor man’s Alexandre Pato: an injury-prone Brazilian who has failed to live up to the hype in Europe.
While Pato was an initial sensation, with his explosive pace and finishing, in his first two seasons at AC Milan, across town his compatriot has never really got going and the past 24 months have seen little progress in his overall game.
Inter spotted his talents at 16 and secured his services in a youth deal until the player turned 18, leaving him at his club Vasco da Gama, but it was one of those situation of getting there before anyone else – in this case Real Madrid and Barcelona – and thus hoping to bank on a youngster developing his full potential.
The problem arose when it became clear that Coutinho was neither an out-and-out striker or neither a true winger and due to his slight build and electrifying pace he ended up on the flank more by default than design as Rafa Benitez attempted to accommodate such an inconsistent performer.
There were glimpses of the diamond in the rough quality in a Champions League group match at Bayern Munich where his unfettered dribbling tore the Bundesliga side apart, but back in Serie A he could make little headway against blanket defending.
He could be described as an instinctive player rather than one who can fit into a general scheme and in Italy there is little room for the “luxury” performer so as Coutinho ran down more and more blind alleys; committing the cardinal sin of giving up possession so his opportunities dwindled and his injuries became more pronounced.
Initially they were minor knocks but in a mirror image of Pato there were muscle twinges that turned into strains that extended to longer periods on the sidelines.
A loan spell at the turn of last year with Espanyol in Spain freed him from the shackles of Italian team-work and by all reports he was mobile and alert around goal; only to return to Inter in the summer and take his place on the treatment table where he has remained for most of the season, making fleeting appearances as a substitute before succumbing to a stress fracture to his tibia.
Although back on the fringes of the side before the winter break, current coach Andrea Stramaccioni has had little chance to judge whether Coutinho can fit into his formation where midfield application has meant that there is only room for one creative player – and that is Antonio Cassano.
Wesley Sneijder has moved to Galatasaray and another skillful dribbler Ricky Alvarez is a target for Porto so Coutinho could yet find himself back in the fold as cover for Cassano.
However, if Moratti can recoup something in the region of 15million euro on his initial 4m euro investment, not to mention the medical bills, he will listen to offers but he will do so reluctantly as he still holds out hopes that Coutinho can still flourish in Italy.
Then again there is always another sensation coming out of South America and Moratti has now set his sights on Corinthians midfielder Paulinho whose box-to-box running is more in keeping with the new Inter philosophy of graft before craft.