In the Era of Mega Transfers, Why Couldn’t Alexis and Coutinho Push Moves Through?

KAZAN, RUSSIA - JUNE 28: Alexis Sanchez of Chile reacts during the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 Semi-Final. Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

And so it is goodbye to the summer. Remember the start? CR7 had a little tantrum over the Spanish taxman’s investigations and sulked on holidays, pestering his club Real Madrid with churlish exit-sounds. Now, at the opposite end of the transfer window, it’s all seems a bit of a blur amid the infinite transfer sagas and world-record deals. Even ardent fans were somewhat repulsed by all the obscene dealings and by what they uncovered, or didn’t: the absolute stranglehold of rampant capitalism on soccer, slowly supplanting any romantic leftover notion of athletic and moral virtues.

But, alas, those considerations were of little importance yesterday on Transfer Deadline Day, akin to a national holiday in the United Kingdom, a crammed 24-hours of overheated fax machines, nervy and head-scratching agents, improbable sightings of football nobility and last-minute collapses. It all offered tremendous titillation, but at the same time felt like a frothy pint.

Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool celebrates scoring his side’s first goal during a Premier League match between Liverpool and AFC Bournemouth. Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Who was going to stay? Who was on the move? At the end of a frantic night, Brazil’s Philippe Coutinho belongs to the first category: no move to Catalonia, as previously hoped for. On duty with the boys from Brazil in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers, Coutinho reminded everyone of his innate talent and beguiling elegance when in the 76th minute, he burst forward, clipped a delightful pass toward Gabriel Jesus and side-footed the return with a clinical finish into the back of the net. Afterwards he broke down. Neymar, who left FC Barcelona this summer, offered words of consolation.”I’m very happy that he scored a goal because at this moment he lives a very great sadness,” said Brazil’s number ten.

Alexis Sanchez was another non-mover, a somewhat anti-climactic end to a thrilling tale of Manchester City courtship. The diminutive, hyper-active Chilean was slowly becoming an outcast in North London’s Arsenal; a last man standing in a treacherous morass of soccer mediocrity and self-inflicted decline. He wanted away–although he stopped short of submitting a written transfer request–but Arsenal didn’t budge. In Santiago, Alexis suffered further with Chile’s surprise 0-3 defeat by Paraguay.

On a micro-level, Sanchez’s non-move was slightly amusing. The math was fairly simple: City courted Sanchez and Arsenal courted Thomas Lemar, one of the boy wonders of French football. In the final hours of the window Arsenal submitted a $117 million offer to Monaco, but when the marquee deal collapsed, the Londoners balked at selling their coveted number seven. Previously – well in the last week of the transfer window – Arsenal had finally entertained the idea of a whole new future without Sanchez. Could Arsenal not have planned a little better?

Alexis Sanchez scores during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City on January 11, 2015. Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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It’s a peculiar contradiction that in a soccer landscape of physios, data scientists, billionaire owners, financial skullduggery and all the advancement that comes with today’s game, Deadline Day always reveals comic depths of amateur planning and very fallible operations in the board rooms of mega-clubs, all petrified and mortified by the impending doom of  August 31st’s deadline.

Still, the Wengeresque machinations in North London were a weird bonfire, stoked by the illusion of a top-four finish and by a profit-obsessed board. Arsenal’s denial of  the move was a curious case at best, but more the signpost of a moribund future for a club in an existential. The Gunners’ 4-0 thumping at the hands of Liverpool was an end-all apocalyptic nightmare, a 90 minutes of protracted anguish in which Arsenal players chased their own shadows. Sanchez saw that Wenger’s Arsenal wasn’t progressing, but the Chilean may now face a season of isolation and alienation at the Emirates Stadium; at least until January, when Manchester City will surely come knocking again.

There is an absolute stranglehold of rampant capitalism on soccer.

Liverpool also stood firm about its kingpin player, but for the different reasons. They have grand ambitions this season and consider Coutinho imposingly central to the realization of all their dreams. Jurgen Klopp’s team has a daring about it, boosted by the phenomenal pace of a marauding front three. They have greatness within their reach and this must be the season of fruition.

Perhaps Coutinho was a tad pedantic in his behavior by trying to force through a transfer. The lure and luster of a bright future at Barcelona, arguably still the greatest soccer institution on the globe, are understandable, but Klopp and the Liverpool hierarchy had already told the Brazilian that a transfer to the Spanish giants was a no go – in a face to face meeting. Gosh Philippe, what did you do next? He had Liverpool pissed off with his transfer request, submitted via email. 

Barcelona weren’t innocent either. The Catalans had bullied the Reds all summer long the way they had been bullied by Paris Saint-Germain over Neymar, the way Klopp and co had bullied Southampton over Virgil Van Dijk. They kept upping the ante, but to no avail. In the end Barcelona didn’t get its man, but then this was not a summer when it was business as usual. It never really was from the moment PSG and the economic power of Qatar transformed the transfer market into a grotesque circus by prizing Neymar from Barcelona. That was a transfer that in no small part highlighted Neymar’s traction and insistence. Coutinho and Sanchez however met something else: the power of stubborn super clubs.