When Philippe Coutinho arrived at Bayern Munich last summer, many in Germany fell over themselves with excitement.
The Brazilian, it was said, was an international superstar who would bring long-needed glamour to the Bundesliga.
Bayern’s sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic, who effectively saved his own neck by pulling off the transfer coup, promised that Coutinho would bring ‘something spectacular’ to Bayern’s already well-stocked attack.
Hopes were high when Coutinho arrived at Bayern last summer on loan from Barcelona
But things have soured for the Brazilian, who has failed to make much of an impression
Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said it was not unlikely that the club would look to buy the loanee outright at the end of the season.
For Coutinho, the move to Bayern promised to reboot a career which had stalled since he left Liverpool for Barcelona in 2018.
Others were quietly more sceptical. In his online column for t-online, former Germany and Scotland coach Berti Vogts questioned whether Coutinho was really worth the hype.
‘Why is he leaving Barcelona? Because he has given up hope of succeeding there,’ wrote Vogts. ‘This is not a global star, but a player who would otherwise have been on the bench this season.’
With the benefit of five months’ hindsight, it seems that Vogts may have been on to something. Coutinho’s time at Bayern has been, if not a total flop, then at the very least a little underwhelming.
Coutinho’s one-year loan deal comes to an end in May, and Bayern would reportedly have to shell out £100 million to keep him on their books.
Coutinho, pictured in training this week, is highly unlikely to still be at Bayern next season
The Brazilian has spent plenty of time on the bench and only shown glimpses of his class
This week, German daily Bild reported that the club had made their minds up. Barring a dramatic change in course, Coutinho will return to Barcelona next summer, his future as foggy as it was six months earlier.
The news hardly came as a surprise. Bayern are set to renew their efforts to sign Leroy Sane and Bayer Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz in the summer, both of whom will cost close to the £100 million mark.
Even for Germany’s richest club, the cash simply isn’t there to make three nine-figure signings.
Coutinho, in any case, has not been worth his price tag. His talent, both at Barcelona and Bayern, has never been in doubt. Yet beyond the odd flash of ingenuity, German fans have not seen much of it so far.
That is a shame because, to begin with at least, it seemed that Coutinho felt far more comfortable in Munich than he had felt in La Liga.
In an interview with Sky Sports in September, he praised the family atmosphere at the club, claiming it was cosier even than at Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Coutinho has enjoyed the family-like atmosphere away from the field at Bayern
Coutinho celebrates scoring in the Champions League against Tottenham in a rare bright spot
Philippe Coutinho 2019/20 stats
Bundesliga appearances: 12 (4)
Champions League appearances: 5 (1)
The problem has been on the pitch. Coutinho’s form has been patchy at best. A flurry of goals and assists towards the end of September quickly faded, and other than one breathtaking performance against Werder Bremen last month, the Brazilian has done little of note in a Bayern shirt since.
In October, former Bayern and Liverpool player Dietmar Hamann said that he looked like a ‘foreign body’ in the Bayern team.
‘I can’t remember any good situation going forward. If you have a player like that who is not making an impact up front, then it’s a problem, because defensively he is only half a player,’ said Hamann.
As at Barcelona, part of Coutinho’s problem has been that he is not the focal point of Bayern’s attack.
While still trying to convince him to stay at Liverpool, Klopp supposedly once told Coutinho that at other clubs, he would be ‘just another player’. So it has proved.
That has only got worse since the sacking of Niko Kovac in early November. Under the Croatian, Coutinho had at least been a regular starter.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp warned Coutinho he would be ‘just another player’ elsewhere
That proved to be the case at Barcelona as Coutinho struggled to hold down a starting place
His successor, Hansi Flick, has rotated more and favoured players such as Thomas Muller, who he knows well from his days as Germany assistant coach.
Coutinho has started on the bench several times under Flick, and has been a less potent force than Muller when he has played. In November, his performances prompted Hamann to double down on his criticism.
‘So far he hasn’t shown anything that would justify a 100 million Euro price tag. At the moment, he is not even worth half that,’ said the former German international.
A month later, the Brazilian finally proved Hamann wrong with a performance for the ages against Bremen.
His hat-trick included a beautifully curled effort from the edge of the area and a nonchalant, first-time lob over goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka. Earlier in the game, he set up Robert Lewandowski with a magical chip over the back line.
That performance remains the only one in which Coutinho has truly lived up to his moniker of ‘little magician’.
Bayern will resume their pursuit of the impressive Bayer Leverkusen player Kai Havertz
Bayern are also expected to try and sign Manchester City’s Leroy Sane in the summer
Unfortunately for the former Liverpool man, any momentum he might have taken from it was quickly snuffed out by the arrival of the winter break.
Against Hertha Berlin last Sunday, Coutinho was quiet again, with Muller providing the match-winning inspiration in midfield.
Unlike with James Rodriguez, another much-hyped La Liga loanee in search of a career reboot, there will be no acrimony to Coutinho’s departure.
He is universally well-liked, and as team mate David Alaba put it earlier this month, ‘the things he does with a ball are breathtaking’.
But in the end, it seems Klopp was right. Coutinho has not led the line at Bayern, and so his breathtaking brilliance has remained somewhat under wraps.
At Liverpool, he would have been worth £100 million. At Bayern, he is just another player.