Why Rodgers must calm Coutinho expectations

Posted by Christopher Atkins

Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesPhilippe Coutinho is off on the right foot at Liverpool, but expectations must be tempered.


Name: Philippe Coutinho
Age: 20
Club: Liverpool
Position: Attacking midfield
Nationality: Brazilian

It's a good moment to be Philippe Coutinho at present. Having moved on from his Inter Milan stagnation, the Brazilian youngster has shown enough in his first two appearances in a Liverpool shirt to suggest that he may just be a suitable match for Brendan Rodgers and, to use a modern footballing cliche, his footballing philosophy.

A goal on his full debut at Anfield Sunday against Swansea will no doubt do his frail confidence a world of good but, just as important, is that expectations are managed after a good start to life in a red shirt.

Coutinho is always going to attract attention. It is not every day that a young Brazilian playmaker wanders through the door of a Premier League club and Liverpool, given its history and support, is no ordinary club. Liverpool's fans are famously numerous and passionate in support of their side and are equally renowned for their appreciation of special talents -- of which there have been a few down the years -- with Luis Suarez the most recent example.

The former Vasco da Gama youngster has a fair weight of expectation on his young shoulders, before even considering the club's sizable investment in his services.

The Brazilian, as Rodgers noted Monday morning on Talksport, has been under pressure to succeed from an early age. The Liverpool boss, who would then have been involved in the Chelsea academy setup, spoke of noting the Vasco da Gama product's talents as a 15-year-old. When Coutinho was 16, Inter Milan parted with 4 million euros to secure his services. He would not even make his senior footballing debut until the following season.

Just as with his recent arrival at Anfield, Coutinho, then 18, was a figure of fascination upon arrival at the San Siro, with many supporters having seen glimpses of the teenager's abilities for Vasco, as well as on a futsal court. Then, under former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, a fresh-faced Coutinho quickly became a regular figure in the Inter side alongside both Samuel Eto'o and Jonathan Biabiany in a three-pronged attack.

His talents were being hailed from all quarters. He received a Brazil call-up and he had long since been handed a large sponsorship deal by Nike. Everything appeared to suggest that the Milanese giants had landed one of the next big stars of Brazilian football.

Fast-forward just 18 months to January 2012, and the embattled star was already being linked with a return to his homeland.

Inter have not been an easy club in which to establish oneself in recent years, with regular managerial upheaval and high expectations often a hindrance to players both young and old. In some quarters, Coutinho was already being written off as the club's latest casualty -- following on from the injury-prone Kerlon.

A loan move to Espanyol in January 2012 looked to have kick-started his career once more, but a regular place in the Inter first team was not to be forthcoming. A lack of physicality in what is a powerful side was without doubt a reason, but, through both injury and an early loss of confidence, Coutinho was never able to consistently produce top performances in a Nerazzurri shirt.

Given this context, Rodgers' recent indulgent praise of his first outings is understandable -- his confidence was in desperate need of restoration. The Liverpool manager has given plenty of exposure to young players this season and has regularly proved more than willing to discuss their potential abilities in the media. Indeed, many would argue that he has often been too vocal in this regard. It is not surprising, then, that Coutinho has quickly become a hot topic on the lips of the Northern Irish coach who has both talked up the Brazilian's abilities and the potential importance of his signing to Liverpool as a club.

That is all well and good and there can be little doubt that Coutinho's confidence levels must be soaring at present. Now, though, expectations must be tempered if the Brazilian is to fulfill his true potential. At Inter, he was both praised profusely and thrust into a key role at an early age. It simply proved to be too much too soon for the player, in spite of his plentiful talents. There have been mutterings of “time to adapt” and “adjusting to the speed of the game” in recent days, but they have often been lost amongst a sea of superlatives.

Just as at Inter Milan, Liverpool is a club where expectations can prove too big for some players and, at times, caution is required. Coutinho is ideally suited to play either from the left or centrally in Rodgers' system, but it is now time for the manager to hide his evident delight at his capture. The English league is an entirely different beast, for better or worse, than that which the Brazilian is accustomed to and there will, no doubt, be hiccups in his coming adaptation. Not every team will be as soft-bellied as Swansea's much-changed 11 this weekend.

If Coutinho is to shine, caution must now be the order of the day. He needs playing time, but expectations of those showings must be kept at a realistic level if we are to avoid another emerging Brazilian talent being thrown to the European wolves at the first opportunity. Indeed, in this respect, the torrid early experiences of compatriot Lucas Leiva should act to dampen any growing fervour. On arrival from Grêmio, Lucas was heralded as the heir to Steven Gerrard but quickly found himself a much-derided figure at the club. It would take a lot of time and mental strength for the now fan favourite to overcome his experiences.

Rodgers has at times been ridiculed for his overly positive outlook this season and must surely have been, at least partially, chastened by the experience. He must now, though, look to put his newly acquired experiences as manager of a big club to good use, for Coutinho, along with the likes of Raheem Sterling and Suso, needs his protection.

For further discussion on any of the players featured in The Scout's Notebook, Christopher can be found on Twitter - @chris_elastico

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