His nickname growing up was ‘Pequeno Magico’ – Little Magician – but, for Philippe Coutinho, the stardust has faded.
As former club Liverpool celebrate their first title in 30 years, Coutinho is at a career crossroads – with more than a few roads blocked off.
Barcelona – who coughed up a huge £142million to sign him from Anfield in January 2018 – farmed him out on loan to Bayern Munich last August at a cost of £600,000 a game to the German champions.
His undoubted talent has flickered in spells in the Bundesliga – notably a hat-trick and two assists against Werder Bremen in December and two goals in the pre-lockdown 6-0 win at Hoffenheim.
But the Brazilian star has been overshadowed by the exploits of striker Robert Lewandowski, and attacking midfielder Serge Gnabry, who has scored 19 goals for Bayern this season, including four at Tottenham in the 7-2 Champions League group-stage victory.
Bayern have not activated the £110m clause to make Coutinho’s loan a permanent deal and a return to a Barcelona side in as much turmoil as the midfielder himself looks the likeliest current option.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta is a big fan and believed to have an interest in Coutinho – but that’s not likely to happen with Mesut Ozil still in the building.
Coutinho is said to be on Everton ’s radar too – but destinations that the 28-year-old South American would really entertain aren’t opening their doors.
Liverpool, both Manchester giants and Chelsea are showing no appetite in returning the playmaker to the Premier League – and his options are dwindling fast.
But Coutinho insists he still has plenty to offer – and can recapture his old magic.
He said: “I always think I can do better. I always work hard and always think I can improve and learn.
“Playing at No.10 is the position I prefer most and where I feel I can help the team the best.
“But, of course, I’ve always said I need to be prepared to play where the coach wants.
“It’s the position I like most and I hope I’ll get the chance to play there, do well and improve my game.
“The Champions League is a big opportunity for Bayern and that’s what we are all focusing on now – we want to finish the season the best possible way.”
Coutinho refuses to speak about his future but despite forcing his way out of Liverpool, which left a sour taste for many fans, he is happy they finally broke their Premier League duck.
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And he has nothing but admiration for Jurgen Klopp, who tried to persuade him to fulfil his ambitions with Liverpool.
He added: “Klopp is a great coach and is exceptional at what he does. I spent a very enjoyable period of my life with him and I was able to learn a lot.
“He always pays attention to the very fine details. But his main strength is that he’s extremely focused and has transformed the club into the one it is today.
“It’s all about the mentality and always staying completely focused. That’s something I’ll always carry with me and it was very important for my development.”
With a Bundesliga title medal to add to the two La Liga crowns he’s won at Barcelona, Coutinho can concentrate on putting himself back in football’s shop window in the Champions League.
Bayern are 3-0 up from the first leg of their last-16 tie at Chelsea and should cruise to the quarter-finals.
And, for Coutinho, it could be the last chance to convince the Premier League he is still a force – and a gamble worth taking.
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