Brendan Rodgers interview: Philippe Coutinho 'was born to play for Barcelona'
Celtic manager was speaking while in Dubai with the rest of his Celtic squad
Brendan Rodgers says Philippe Coutinho was “born to play for Barcelona” and has tipped his former player to prove the ideal successor to Andres Iniesta at the Camp Nou.
The Brazilian, 25, completed his £142 million (Dh706m) transfer from Liverpool on Monday, making him the third most expensive player in football history. Barcelona had tried unsuccessfully in the summer to land Coutinho, failing with three separate bids. He has signed a five-and-a-half-year contract with the Primera Liga leaders, bringing to an end a five-year spell in England in which the playmaker scored 54 goals in 201 matches.
Now Celtic manager, Rodgers was responsible for bringing Coutinho from Italy’s Inter Milan in January 2013 for £8.5m. At the time, the young midfielder was struggling to feature regularly at the San Siro, but thrived at Liverpool to eventually become one of the Premier League’s outstanding performers.
Speaking in Dubai as Scottish champions Celtic enjoy a warm-weather training camp, Rodgers was asked about his former pupil’s money-spinning transfer to Spain, saying: “I’m not surprised. If he was born to play for any club it was Barcelona. When I took Phil into Liverpool he was playing in Italy, not in the team, was a young player and when we brought him for £8.5m then people wondered if he was going to be physically big enough.
“But I’d seen him play as a young player at Vasco da Gama and, at 18, at Inter Milan in a team with [Wesley] Sneijder and [Samuel] Eto’o and all these types. So you could tell he was a player; he just needed an opportunity.
“And he came over and was phenomenal, first during my time and he continued with that. It doesn’t surprise me. Obviously it’s sad for Liverpool, but they made a huge investment in the player, got a huge return and he gets a chance to go and play with his mate, Mr [Luis] Suarez. They teamed up very well and were very close when they played together with me at Liverpool.
“He goes there and is playing with some of the best players in the world. So it’s a great move for him. You couldn’t speak highly enough of Phil, because as a person he’s an incredible guy.”
Coutinho is seen by many as a direct replacement for compatriot Neymar, who became the game's most expensive player this summer when he left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain.
However, Coutinho seems more suited to ultimately succeed Iniesta, as the Spanish World Cup winner's influence on the team begins to wane. Undoubtedly one of Barcelona's greatest ever players, Iniesta will be 34 in May.
Asked how successful he thought Coutinho would be at his new club, Rodgers said: “A huge success. Iniesta’s a player I’ve loved - him and Xavi are incredible players - but if there’s a player who’s likened to Iniesta’s game in the world it’s Phil.
“He’s different to Neymar; he’s more the Iniesta type. And obviously Iniesta, at 33, his game-time will probably become limited. But Phil’s the natural successor. I just think that every part of him as a football player and a human being is suited to Barcelona: incredible technical ability, he understands tactical concepts, can play in different positions.
"Physically, he has speed, strength; mentally, he’s a very stable boy emotionally and he’ll carry the values of Barcelona because he’s such a good person. He doesn’t waste his time doing stupid things. He’s a good guy. He’s perfectly suited for them.”
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Updated: January 9, 2018 04:48 PM