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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Philippe Coutinho makes discreet landing as Barcelona fans revel in arrival of club record signing

Andy Mitten talks to fans on the day of the Brazilian's arrival in the Catalan capital.

Philippe Coutinho is expected to be officially presented as a Barcelona player on Monday. Frank Augstein / AP Photo
Philippe Coutinho is expected to be officially presented as a Barcelona player on Monday. Frank Augstein / AP Photo

By the time Philippe Coutinho’s record transfer was confirmed by Barcelona at 11.01pm UAE time on Saturday, the Brazilian was already en route to his new home.

Coutinho’s former Liverpool teammate, Luis Suarez, wasn’t the only person waiting for him when he arrived on a private plane from southern England.

Media and fans were also there to greet the most expensive player in Spanish football history, but while Coutinho’s family walked through arrivals at Barcelona airport clutching Barca bags, the player was nowhere to be seen and disappeared with Suarez.

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Coutinho was said to be so desperate to move that he paid €10 million (Dh44.2m) of the fee himself. It’s true that he loved the weather and life in his home near Barcelona’s beach in 2012 when he was on loan at Espanyol, but his first day back was grey and wet - more reminiscent of Liverpool in winter than Spain.

Without a photograph of his arrival, the Catalan Sport mocked up image of the club’s 33rd Brazilian in a Barca shirt with the caption ‘Signed!’. Judging by compatriots like Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Romario, Ronaldinho and even players whose names didn’t began with ‘R’ like Neymar, he’s in solid company.

An implausible buy out fee of €400m was also included in the five-and-a-half-year contract. Neymar’s €222m was also once considered implausible, though he has age on his side compared to Coutinho.

The Catalan press detailed the vast fee of €120m, to be paid in instalments, plus €30m in variables and the €10m from Coutinho himself.

Columnists and pundits all agreed that he is a great signing, with Mundo Deportivo stating that Barcelona had signed four players in one, since Coutinho could play as a No 7, 8, 10 or 11.

The Madrid-based Marca did mention the signing on the cover, but it wasn’t close to the size of a quote by Zinedine Zidane saying his side didn't need a new goalkeeper at the moment. An already dominant Barca strengthening won’t improve their mood.

While Coutinho’s departure has caused consternation in Merseyside, Cules – Barca fans – have been almost unanimous in welcoming his signing.

“We need a replacement for Iniesta,” Jordi Camps, a season ticket holder from just north of Barcelona, told The National. “I’ve not actually seen that much of Coutinho since I watch Barcelona and not Liverpool, but he’s regarded as a very good player.

"He should be for the size of the transfer fee and I’m still impressed that Barcelona can pay these huge transfer fees. You have to do that to compete at the highest level, but our philosophy should be to get as many players through our Masia into the first team.

"Iniesta didn’t cost us a penny, nor did Xavi [Hernandez], [Sergio] Busquets, Sergi Roberto or Leo Messi and many more. We should also get as many Catalan players into the first team too, players that feel what this club really means, but it’s not easy.”

Jimmy Byrne, who has long held a season ticket behind the goal at Camp Nou, said: “Coutinho’s a very good player,” said “The transfer fee is crazy, but the club think they can cover it. A team like Barca should be looking to always improve and I think Coutinho will add something. He’s similar to Iniesta, who is now 33. He also helps to cover the loss of Neymar.

“I’m surprised at how this season has worked out because Real Madrid looked so powerful after their Super Cup wins (against Manchester United and Barcelona). But it’s Barca who are unbeaten with a 14-point lead over Madrid. Lionel Messi remains the best player, but goalkeeper Ter Stegen and Sergi Roberto have been exceptional.”

Close to Camp Nou, a young fan, Jan, was walking to the game with his father, avoiding the puddles as he went.

“Coutinho has good balance and technique and he shoots well,” he said in a manner that belied his nine years. Jan was happy, as were the fans getting the name "Coutinho" printed on their shirt in the vast, two-level club shop in front of the main stand for €100 in adult sizes.

“We don’t know what number he’ll be yet, but we’ll print his name and can add the number later,” explained an assistant, who faced a rack of shirts with "Messi" and "Suarez" printed on them.

Coutinho, who will be unveiled as a Barcelona player on Monday, chose to stay away from the Levante game, but Barca think the Brazilian has the technical level to improve them and settle in quickly.

Give the picture of Barca’s principal players, all of them bearded, which adorn the main stand, all he appears to now need is some facial hair.

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