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BFW Postseason Breakdown: Philippe Coutinho, Bayern Munich’s biggest disappointment

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Why did he come here? Why did the board loan him? Why did Coutinho ever leave Liverpool?

FC Bayern München v 1. FSV Mainz 05 - Bundesliga for DFL Photo by Matthias Hangst/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

Well here we are, folks. You’ve already seen BFW’s picks for the most outstanding, most valuable, and most improved Bayern Munich player this season. Now it’s time to change our tune and look at the opposite — the most disappointing.

When Philippe Coutinho arrived in Munich from Barcelona last summer, hopes were high. While ostensibly a panic buy to distract from the failed pursuit of Leroy Sané, the club PR machine hailed the Brazilian as the world-class player fans were hoping for. Many weren’t convinced — but overall, the narrative became mainstream.

Warning signs

There were, of course, problems with the Coutinho transfer from the very beginning. He came to Bayern as a Barcelona reject, having spent the previous season putting in disappointing performances every week.

Much of the Brazilian’s woes were attributed to the fact that he was simply far too similar to Lionel Messi, and the Catalans failed to utilize him at his favored left-wing position, where he had played at Liverpool. The fanfare surrounding his arrival was based on the presumption that he could regain his “Liverpool form” at Bayern, in other words, the form that made Barca pay €140 million for him.

However, even at Liverpool, Coutinho was never a Bayern-type winger. He didn’t really have the raw pace or dribbling ability of someone like Arjen Robben or Franck Ribery. Jürgen Klopp used him as a creative left midfielder, and he preferred to drift inside and create shots from the center.

This should have been the first warning sign. Bayern had set out to buy a “Robbery” successor and got the wrong kind of player entirely. The temporary nature of Coutinho’s loan only exacerbated his status as a misfit. Everyone knew he was going to be shipped back to Barca in a year’s time.

Of course, this truth wasn’t lost on media outlets. The German press quickly pitted Coutinho against Bayern’s incumbent attacking midfielder, Thomas Müller. Given how Müller is a world-class player in his own right as well as a fan favorite, it put undue pressure on the Brazilian from the beginning. This was exacerbated by coach Niko Kovac’s own comments, where he unequivocally stated that Coutinho was brought in to play in midfield, dropping the pretense that he could be used on the wings.

That’s where things started to go downhill. After what happened to James Rodriguez in the 2018/19 season, the writing was on the wall for the Brazilian even before he arrived.

The stats

FC Bayern München v FC Schalke 04 - Bundesliga for DFL Photo by Sebastian Widmann/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

On the surface, Philippe Coutinho’s season at Bayern doesn’t seem too bad. According to Transfermarkt, he had 9 goals and 8 assists in 2,067 minutes — a respectable return.

Digging deeper into the numbers reveals a sobering truth. Of Coutinho’s entire scorer tally, six goals and five assists came against some of the worst teams in the league — Paderborn (relegated), Düsseldorf (relegated), Werder Bremen (relegation playoff), Augsburg (15th), and Köln (14th). Meanwhile, the rest of his goals and assists came in thumping victories over Tottenham Hotspur (7-2 and 3-1), Red Star (6-0), Hoffenheim (6-0), and Schalke (5-0).

In cricket, you’d call this kind of player a “flat track bully.” Despite playing over 2,000 minutes, Coutinho’s positive contributions came either against weak opponents or in games where Bayern were dominating anyway (usually both).

The (really bad) performances

In keeping with that line of discussion, when Coutinho failed to score or assist, his performances were BAD. In some ways, you have to admit it isn’t his fault. He just isn’t the type of player who can excel in a high-octane gegenpressing system, which is strange, because he did really well at Liverpool, under Jürgen Klopp of all people.

However, the Brazilian didn’t really help his case. His performances were always marred by poor decision-making, ball hogging, and senseless long shots that sailed over the bar. His ability to link up with his teammates was especially poor, as he seemed to prefer to dribble into a line of defenders rather than lay-off the ball to either Robert Lewandowski or Alphonso Davies, both of whom were usually in better positions. As a player he was frustrating to watch, and his plays were equal parts wasteful and selfish. The brief moments of magic couldn’t make up for that.

The price

Now all the stuff that I’ve mentioned so far would probably be okay, if Coutinho was really cheap. But he wasn’t. BFW did a breakdown of this a while back, so let me just quote that article:

In August, we found out the terms of Bayern’s deal for the “little magician,” €8.5 million in loan fee, and his full wages of €25 million gross. Now, Bild has crunched the numbers further and figured out just how much Coutinho earns per game.

According to Bild’s numbers, Coutinho will cost at least €657,000 per fixture — enough money to buy two Lamborghini Aventadors or 7308 Bayern jerseys! Furthermore, this number is calculated in the hypothetical situation that Bayern plays in every single possible game this season, meaning they will get to the final of the Champions League and DFB cup

Yup, we paid almost the full price of Benjamin Pavard’s transfer fee to bring Coutinho in. It’s not as bad as what Barcelona paid, but for a club that takes pride in making “sensible” transfers, the Philippe Coutinho transfer had terrible ROI.

Conclusion

FC Bayern München v 1. FSV Mainz 05 - Bundesliga for DFL Photo by Matthias Hangst/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

Realistically, if you followed Bayern Munich this season, none of what I said should come as a shock to you. Coutinho was the wrong type of player to get, and his fate was sealed when he ended up in contention with Thomas Müller for minutes. The bosses made a panic buy to satisfy players and fans when the Sané transfer fell through, and Coutinho was the only big-name player we could get on such short notice. It’s also the reason he ended up being so expensive: Bayern were the only club desperate enough to cover Barca’s wages.

While Bayern Munich still have some Champions League games left to play, and Coutinho graciously took a 50% pay cut to stay with the team and help out, it’s unlikely he’ll see any action in August outside of maybe some substitute appearances. Beyond that, the Brazilian’s future is uncertain. Sporadic news sources have linked him with a move to the Premier League, with Arsenal being interested in a deal.

It’s not a bad destination, but the fall from grace is stunning. In a few short years, Coutinho went from being the second-most expensive player on the planet to essentially worthless, carrying the stigma of “failing” at two different top clubs. His career is in shambles and in desperate need of a reset. As Bayern fans, we’ve often been frustrated with him this season, but we wish him all the best in his future endeavors. He was never right for Bayern, but he seems like a good guy and has the talent to succeed elsewhere.