PERHAPS it was the ill-fitting, comically over-sized shirt that made the comparisons immediately spring to mind. Maybe it was the mop of dark hair and the slight physical appearance. Whatever it was, the sight of a diminutive, skilful new signing wearing the red number 10 shirt during his first start at Anfield immediately brought back more than a few memories.
It was nearly 8 and a half years ago that Luis Garcia started his first home game for Liverpool and, after an hour of Sunday’s game against Swansea City, the tune of ‘You are my sunshine’ was whirling relentlessly around my head again for the first time in years.
Philippe Coutinho of course, is not Luis Garcia mark II. No two players are ever the same.
The Brazilian is at a wholly different stage of his career than Garcia was when Rafa Benitez signed him from Barcelona back in 2004. However, that does not mean that we have to ignore some obvious similarities between the two players: the movement, technique and enthusiastic running on display against Swansea on Sunday were eerily reminiscent of the Spaniard. That home debut goal helped as well.
Garcia was the archetypal number 10 that started from the flanks with licence to roam and it seems that this is also the position that Brendan Rodgers wants his latest signing to occupy. While Stewart Downing stretched Swansea with conventional wing play on Liverpool’s right-hand side, Coutinho floated inside from the left and looked to link up play more centrally while his burst of pace (something that Garcia sadly never had in his armoury) allowed him to beat his marker on the outside when necessary.
Perhaps the most Garcia like moment came when the Brazilian killed a high ball in a central area and split Swansea’s defence with a sumptuous pass into Daniel Sturridge’s path that was millimetres short of absolute perfection. It was an audacious ball that very few players even see, let alone come so close to executing. It was a pass that Garcia probably would have attempted back in 2005 (and incidentally, one that Djibril Cisse or Milan Baros would probably have failed to read).
The comparisons with Garcia weren’t only evident in the good things that Coutinho did though. In the opening stages, the 20 year old was peripheral and looked slightly overawed at the well renowned physical nature of the English game.
Nothing evokes memories of the man who may, or may not have drunk sangria, quite like a piece of quality play that is immediately followed by a lapse of concentration. On the whole though, the debutante came out with passing marks on his first start for his new club.
Despite the paucity of the opposition and the relative ease of this Anfield debut, Coutinho’s performance did make a positive impression that promised much. Promise though, should be expected. This is a young man who was signed by Inter Milan to much fan fare at the age of just 16 and, upon his eventual arrival two years later, was immediately dubbed by Rafa Benitez as the ‘future’ of that illustrious club. He has been capped already by Brazil and his departure from Italy has left a healthy portion of Inter fans up in arms. Like Garcia before him, his talent is in little doubt. What isn’t certain is whether Coutinho can add consistency to his game (for all his promise at Inter, his fluctuating performance levels were a large reason that he often found himself marginalised) and adapt to the Premier League’s hustle and bustle sufficiently enough to prosper in the longer term.
More daunting tasks than Sunday’s game lie in wait for Coutinho, but he already appears to be a player that will excite fans and produce pieces of brilliance. Like Luis Garcia before him, there are likely to be bad days and frustrating moments, but it is already evident that Brazilian has some magic in those multi coloured boots which Brendan Rodgers will be desperate to extract on a regular basis.
Whatever happens after this encouraging start, with no disrespect intended towards Joe Cole, it is a sight for sore Liverpudlian eyes to see a skilful, intelligent, quick and willing young footballer back in their number 10 shirt. Oh, and he just happens to be five foot seven…