Philippe Coutinho returned to Internazionale a matured man last June following a loan spell at Espanyol. The Brazilian began turning heads upon rejoining a revitalised Nerazzurri squad during their pre-season training camp in the Alpine region of Pinzolo. The club had appointed Andrea Stramaccioni as manager in his absence, and the Italian tactician took an immediate liking to the youngster.
“It is hard to believe he is still only 20-years-old,” admitted Stramaccioni after watching Coutinho dazzle with a mazing run that lead to a goal during a friendly against Slovenian outfit FC Koper. The diminutive forward also impressed with the player of the tournament prize in the Trofeo TIM against AC Milan and Internazionale. “His time in Spain has changed him for the better,” revealed striker Diego Milito.
Inter purchased Coutinho from Vasco da Gama for €4m in 2008, but the then 16-year-old did not formally move to Milan until two years later. Fellow countryman Leonardo employed him on the wing in the Champions League after his eventual arrival. The Rio de Janeiro native did not influence Serie A in the manner many expected, and a decision was made to allow loan him out to gain experience.
Espanyol snapped up Coutinho on the final day of the January transfer window in 2012. The curly-haired playmaker quickly settled in Mauricio Pochettino’s midfield, and became a reference point for the entire team in a lacklustre remainder of the campaign for the club. Chipping in with five equally superb strikes, the Spanish side was clearly devastated to see him return to Italy last summer.
Coutinho has a knack for scoring breathtaking goals for fun, as shown during his time in La Liga, and rarely opts for the easy option when confronted with the choice. With a combination of blistering pace and a deft touch with both feet, the attacking midfielder exerts confidence with the ball and can find himself in strong positions all over the pitch.
The Brazilian international has only featured predominantly in the Europa League since his strong pre-season, however. His dribbling abilities from the bench have been mesmerising, but have often frustrated teammates when not leading to a concrete shot or assist. With only one goal and not a single setup to his name domestically, there have been limited opportunities for the forward to prove his credentials.
Stramaccioni’s preferred system for the San Siro residents has generally involved only two creative players upfront this season. Rodrigo Palacio and Antonio Cassano have been mainstays alongside first choice Milito. That left Ricardo Álvarez, Marko Livaja and Galatasaray-bound Wesley Sneijder to fight for a start, which restricted Coutinho to only three appearances from the first minute this term.
The former Vasco man certainly settled in Italy since returning, and was married over the winter break.
“The Premier League? I have no desire to leave at the moment. I want to grow and develop here,” asserted Coutinho during an event in Milan recently.
Brendan Rogers has created a side that balances a distinct passing style with a direct edge. Coutinho’s physical attributes have been questioned, but a push for strength could compromise his pace and trickery on the ball. Working in a similar position to Raheem Sterling might be the ideal solution, as a central role could expose his weakness from challenges.
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