From wonderkid to unwanted goods – what went wrong for Coutinho at Inter?

By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer

Inter were not always of the belief that Philippe Coutinho was better off away from San Siro. Back in 2008, he was seen as a huge coup when the Nerazzurri landed his signature at the age of just 16 for a €3.5 million fee. Yet now, the Brazilian is headed for the Premier League and Liverpool with the Italian club’s best wishes.

Although they could not make use of their new signing until he turned 18, there was a great deal of satisfaction around Appiano Gentile when Inter persuaded Vasco da Gama to part with his economic rights two years before his eventual move to Europe. Coutinho had developed such a reputation while making his way through the Vasco youth ranks that it was seen in no way as a gamble, despite his age and the fact they would have to wait 24 months before he could pull on the blue and black in a competitive fixture.

But things have not exactly gone to plan since Coutinho arrived in Italy, with Inter going as far as to persuade the player that a move away from the club is for the best as they looked to cash in on the €11m Liverpool offered.

After a promising initial spell in Rafael Benitez’s six-month reign, the 20-year-old has found it difficult to find a regular spot in the side. Even under the Spaniard, the attacking midfielder was regularly forced to play on the left of a 4-2-3-1 simply to get into the team, but things have only grown more difficult for him under the subsequent coaching spells of Leonardo, Gian Piero Gasperini, Claudio Ranieri and Andrea Stramaccioni. There have been occasional sights of a first-team shirt, but not since Benitez was in charge has Coutinho started more than two league fixtures in succession.

TWO DIFFERENT PLAYERS | Coutinho since 2010

Sergio Chesi, Italy’s deputy editor, explains why things have not worked out for Countinho in a Nerazzurri shirt.

“Coutinho has been unlucky at Inter, for many reasons,” explains Sergio. “The first is because he arrived immediately after the club had won the treble, when they began going through the difficulties they are still experiencing to this day. It was hard for a youngster to find himself thrust into such a problematic situation.

“Not since Benitez was in charge has Coutinho started more than two league fixtures in succession

“Then there were the frequent physical problems he suffered, showing certain limitations as he grew, and also the fact he never really gave the impression that he had the personality to make the difference at the very highest levels, nor the physical attributes to have a say in the Italian championship. Personally, I am amazed that Liverpool are spending such a sum of money on a player who has offered so little in Serie A.”

So why are the Reds taking such a gamble? Well, during his loan spell with Espanyol in the second half of the 2011-12 season, Coutinho revelled in the freedom he was given, attracting a whole host of great reviews in the process. The only fixture in which he did not feature during his spell in Barcelona was one for which he was suspended after seeing red against Osasuna. Such was his form in the blue and white shirt, he scored more goals in four months in Spain than he has during his entire spell with Inter.

That stat is less surprising when you look at the fact he started 14 league games for the Periquitos compared to 15 in two-and-a-half years at San Siro. Given the chance to prove himself over a long period, Coutinho spread his wings and made a real impression. It is an unavoidable fact that the Brazilian has not produced any kind of consistency at Inter, but how can he be expected to do so when he has not been picked with any consistency either?

It is often said of skillful players that teams can struggle to locate them a spot in which they can truly show their best football, and that has never been more true than in the case of Inter and Coutinho. A player of undoubted qualities on the ball, great pace, a sure eye for a pass and impressive composure for a youngster, he is the latest talent to be lost at the Nerazzurri.

And if he excels on Merseyside, then a succession of Inter coaches past and present may well be left to answer a few difficult questions as to why he was not given the chance to show just how good he can be.

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