Aston Villa will make a decision on Philippe Coutinho’s future next month, in what appears to have gone from a no-brainer to a potential dilemma.
Coutinho would cost Villa £33m to sign from Barcelona, while wage expectations could be at least £8m a year even if he takes a significant pay cut.
After five games without a goal or an assist and an anonymous performance at Leicester on Saturday, the huge figures for this transfer are becoming clearer.
At his best, Coutinho operates on a different stratosphere to most Premier League players. In many games at Villa, notably against Southampton and Leeds [twice]he was exceptional, transforming matches into moments of magic and invention.
Coutinho was also brilliant in the first half against Tottenham earlier this month which can easily be forgotten after a 4-0 home defeat.
Yet there have also been matches where he comes across as a luxury recruit, unable to influence the team and seemingly struggling to find his right position as a striker or No10.
Before he was substituted with 11 minutes left at the King Power Stadium, traveling Villa fans had been chanting Emiliano Buendía’s name, as Coutinho and Leon Bailey both struggled to make an impact.
Although Coutinho’s fee isn’t an issue for wealthy Villa owners, for such a salary outlay they could reasonably expect a higher level of consistency.
Villa are not the only club to have these considerations as they assess the potential return of such a massive investment. Even one of the most consistent players in the world – Mohamed Salah – hasn’t been able to secure a new deal at Liverpool as his salary could eat up a big chunk of the budget.
Balancing the long-term financial consequences of such transactions with the short-term needs of the team can be complicated.
Villa must be sure that Coutinho is the game-changing signing who can inspire them towards European qualification next season.
Their next two games, against Norwich and Burnley, represent a real chance for him to wreak havoc.
But it’s games against Liverpool, looming on May 10, where Villa arguably need Coutinho to shine if the club are to justify putting together such a vast financial package.
Gerrard said: “We can’t expect Phil to be the man of the match, the creator and the goalscorer every time he plays.
“We will continue to work with him and prepare him and I’m sure it will only be a matter of time. I don’t have to stay here and defend Philippe Coutinho; he defends himself with the level he is at.
“He showed in his time here that he was more than capable.”
Saturday’s game was more of a showcase for the defenders, with Villa earning their first goalless draw of the season.
Leicester tired towards the end and perhaps had their eye on their Europa Conference League semi-final against Jose Mourinho’s Roma, with the first leg on Thursday.
This is the first European semi-final for club and manager Brendan Rodgers, and represents a chance to salvage a difficult season.
Rodgers said: “I’m really looking forward to it and it’s about the development of this ever growing club.
“We’ve had European football for the past few years, and we’d love to have it again next year. It gives us the opportunity to do that.
“The fans here have been incredible for us and we need their support, drive and intensity to match that on the pitch.”