Philippe Coutinho 20 Midfielder Inter
It’s always enormously difficult to live up to the sort of hype that surrounds certain South American players. For a large percentage of the last decade Brazilian fans were advised by esteemed commentators that, following Dunga’s unsuccessful and ultimately lamentable stint in charge of the national side, a vibrant new Brazil would emerge. Looking to the future with one eye on an illustrious past, two players in particular would ascend as the finest products of a new golden generation: Santos’ Neymar and Vasco’s Philippe Coutinho.
While Santos fought tooth and nail to hold on to their prized asset, Vasco, going through a change of ownership, cashed in readily with their special one in July 2010; a meek €3.8m offer from Inter enough to conclude a deal.
Making the switch from his native Rio to the cosmopolitan capital of Italy, Coutinho arrived at Inter just as the club had enjoyed her greatest ever season, and the most prestigious of any Italian side to date. Under Jose Mourinho, the Nerazzuri had clinched a Serie A title, Italian cup and also the European Champions Cup. Theoretically this should have been the perfect time to join, but Inter are rarely a club that settles for long and once Jose Mourinho had departed, the atmosphere and general situation at the Guiseppe Meazza became very different.
An up and down 2010-11 saw Coutinho to occasionally demonstrate his ability, but ultimately the physical demands of Serie A, and the cynical defending of opponents affected his progress. The confident player that had emerged as Brazil’s new hope resembled a little boy lost in a man’s world.
2011-12 began as the previous season had ended. Irregular cameos and the odd flash of brilliance, but nothing consistent or particularly incisive. Amid speculation of a return to Brazil, a confidence drained Coutinho found short term salvation in Catalonia with a loan move to Espanyol.
Inter had paid much less than the current going rate for Brazilian talent at the time of his purchase, but remained keen to protect their investment despite a distinct loss of form. While a ‘cut our losses’ return to his native land would have been something of a surrender, Coutinho’s loan spell at Espanyol was the best thing that could have happened. A regular run of games and the opportunity for self expression on the pitch without the constant spectre of imminent substitution, Coutinho noticeably grew in stature during a strong showing in the Primera División. Five goals from fourteen starts indicated that something had clicked. Coutinho was back.
Since returning to a better drilled Inter this summer, Coutinho looks stronger and more assured. Comfortable playing across midfield and handy in more advanced positions, he is endowed with a cultured right foot and the piece of mind to know when and how to use it to best effect. Quite obviously intended as a long term replacement for Wesley Sneijder, it is now clear to Interisti how the Dutch international will be phased out.
It took a while to get here, but there is a new found swagger to this graceful playmaker and while there is still work to do to become the finished article, Coutinho is gaining momentum.
"He had a marvellous season with Espanyol on loan and it's clear just how much they miss him. Flair, skill and invention he's a handful for any opponent. Can sometimes overdo it, but if he finds a healthy medium will go far." - David Cartlidge (Spanish Football Correspondent)
"Last season’s loan to Espanyol & the arrival of Andrea Stramaccioni appear to have been the making of him, finding space at Inter despite the presence of much bigger names. Emerging as a truly quality prospect." - Adam Digby (ESPN, Sports Illustrated)
C Elegant midfielder that feeds on confidence. With work a true world star could emerge