The skilful Samba midfielder chats to World Soccer about Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Brazil.
2020 was an extremely eventful year for midfield magician Philippe Coutinho.
The Brazilian playmaker had a front-row seat for many of the year’s biggest footballing stories: he played 38 games in all competitions for the all-conquering Bayern Munich side, including their infamous 8-2 thrashing of his parent club – a game in which he scored twice after appearing as a late substitute – before returning to Barcelona to find his club in total disarray.
So far he has established himself as a key member of Ronald Koeman’s new-look side at the Nou Camp. We catch up with the 28-year-old on his remarkable year.
Did it feel strange returning to Barcelona having scored against them in last season’s Champions League quarter-final?
“It is a strange feeling but at the time I was playing for Bayern and you can only be professional. I have always wanted to play for Barcelona and returning was what I wanted to do. It is a fresh start for me here and I feel hungry to play well for the team, and hungry for success.”
Would you class your time at Bayern Munich as a success?
“I won three trophies, including the Bundesliga and Champions League, so I don’t think it can be anything other than a success. Winning the Champions League has always been a big ambition of mine and to win it with Bayern was a big thing. I thought the team deserved to win it – and now of course it is my ambition to win it with Barcelona. I will always remember and be thankful for my time and success there, but I am back with Barcelona now and that is where my focus is.”
You’ve mainly played as a No.10 under Ronald Koeman. Is that your best position at Barcelona?
“I have more freedom under the current coach, and more chance to show my creativity playing in a more attacking role. I will always play wherever I am asked – but I am really enjoying how the coach is using me at the moment.”
What has it been like to work under Ronald Koeman so far?
“After the Champions League final he called me personally and told me he would like me to return to Barcelona. It felt good that he believed in me and wanted me back. He is very knowledgeable, and not afraid to try new things and new systems.”
How important was it for the club to retain Lionel Messi? What is it like to play with him?
“He is the best – to train and play with him has been a dream. When I was at Liverpool I used to watch the trio of Messi, Neymar and Suarez and I could not believe what I was watching at times. Now I have my chance to create my own history alongside him.”
Is the squad confident they can win back the title from arch-rivals Real Madrid this season?
“This season feels very different for obvious reasons but yes, the ambition is to win the title. Real Madrid are of course current La Liga champions, but that does not mean they will be the contenders for us. We are confident that this can be a successful season for the club.”
What’s more important for Barcelona this season – domestic or European success?
“With a club like Barcelona that is not really a question that can be answered. We want to win the league but also we know the winning tradition we have in Europe. We are hungry for success in all areas – it’s why I can’t really answer.”
Just how good can your young team-mate Ansu Fati be?
“There are no limits to how good he can be. Already at just 18 years old he is showing that not only can he play at the top level but also he can excel at the top level. There are many experienced players at Barcelona that all of the younger players can learn off. It is normal to be excited by a player like him, but at the same time we must give him space and time to develop.
“Barcelona has a big history of developing young players and them going on to be among the most important players in the world. There are many at the moment who fall into that category, but as I said it is important we let them develop at their own pace.”
You’ve now played in four of the top five European leagues. Would you say there are a lot of differences between them? Do you have a favourite?
“The toughest is hard to say. La Liga is faster, but the Premier League is more intense and more open. In Italy you get more time on the ball and Germany is very organised. They are all so different in their own ways.”
Would you consider a return to the Premier League in the future?
“The Premier League is one of the most exciting leagues in the world and to have the chance to play there with a team like Liverpool will always be something I will feel grateful for. It is impossible to say what might or might not happen in the future – but what I know is that right now my only focus is on being successful with Barcelona.”
You were involved when Neymar recently became Brazil’s second-highest goal scorer of all time. Do you believe that he will catch Pele?
“There is a real chance. When you consider he is only 28 there are many more years he has to score 13 goals and I am sure he will do it. He started playing for the national team at such a young age – and to already overtake one of our greats like Ronaldo and to be talking about him catching up and overtaking our greatest ever player tells you how special he is.”
Interview by Donald Deane
This interview first appeared in the Winter Edition of World Soccer. You can purchase old issues of the magazine by clicking here.