Cou leaves Reds at crossroads

WELL, Liverpool's euphoria didn't last long: pricked like a balloon by an ambitious Brazilian who'd rather pay homage to Catalonia than the Kop.

But although the rain on the Virgil van Dijk parade may seem like a premature tropical storm not expected till the summer, it sees the Anfield club at an all-too-familiar crossroads.

And how they respond will not only determine Jurgen Klopp's legacy but could be the defining moment of the Fenway Sports Group's (FSG) reign.

Pocket the cash and they would plunge straight into Stan Kroenke territory; invest it properly and Liverpool could be back where their history and beseeching fans insist they belong: in the pantheon of club football.

Yes, the Reds have been here before in recent memory only to make costly wrong turnings. Mention Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez, and Kopites will shudder at what happened next.

There were mitigating circumstances for the last two departures, but the trio's replacements were respectively Alberto Aquilani, Andy Carroll and Mario Balotelli!!!

Understandably, having been three times bitten, there are those who are braced for further pain. And, yes, each time it was excruciating: the money was blown and it took ages to recover.

But those fearing a repeat should remember that back then Liverpool had not just bought the world's most expensive defender or have a £55 million (RM297.4m) midfielder to come in June. Nor did they have Klopp as manager.

Besides these massive statements of intent, recruitment has improved notably under the German. And so has the recruitment method.

Instead of the half-past six compromise between Brendan Rogers and a committee, Klopp now has the first and last word. And FSG have backed him to the £75m (RM405.5m) hilt. As a result, Liverpool are in a far stronger position now.

Even so, pessimists may feel the Everton game offered a dystopian glimpse of a post-Coutinho future with a glaring lack of guile in trying to prise open the Toffees' defence.

But Klopp's tenure has seen an undeniably upward progression. Unlike the dying days of Rafa Benitez and the scattergun buys of Rogers (who did bring in Coutinho, to be fair), building blocks are gradually being put into place. Look at the signings of Sadio Mane and Mo Salah – nothing if not inspired.

Yes, the Fab Four have now had their "Ringo Starr", but Klopp will not be relying on Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to fill in on the drums: Monaco's Thomas Lemar is the bookies' favourite with Alexis Sanchez a possibility while attempts – and a bit more cash – could be made to bring Naby Keita in early.

No one is pretending losing Coutinho is not a spanner in all the good works – it is.

And it does put at risk a top four place not to mention weaken a slowly building belief that Liverpool were dark horses in an unusually wide open Champions League.

But clearly the Brazilian's mind was made up and Klopp could not dissuade him – and certainly not when the player stumped up his own money to seal the deal!

That's a measure of his desire to join up with old pal Suarez, not to mention Lionel Messi, and form a potentially lethal "MSC".

It is a pity he misses that competition with Liverpool as he sits it out at Barca, but his desire to go is perfectly understandable.

For South American players, Barcelona and Real Madrid are the ultimate clubs to play for – the language, culture and climate are far more conducive – and to his great credit Coutinho had knuckled down and given his all this season even though he'd rather have left.

Klopp could neither risk an unhappy player nor its possible affect on the dressing room just as FSG could not really spurn an incredible offer. Most ex-players are saying it was too good to refuse for a player who cost them just £12.5m (RM67.6m) five years ago.

Prior to the Neymar transfer, he would have been in the £60 - £70m (RM324.4m - RM378.5m) bracket and we wonder if he really is that brilliant after all.

Very good, undoubtedly, but well short of Xavi and Andres Iniesta. He could also go missing occasionally and until the two recent Everton games, Liverpool had a good record of playing without him.

Rumours that Riyad Mahrez was to replace him were probably because the Algerian is the nearest to a like for like – even to going missing on occasion. But the quoted £49m (RM265m) did seem low for the 2016 Footballer of the Year although the move has not been ruled out.

Whoever comes in, we can expect them to be well-researched and more than decent. But the move for Keita and the halting of Ben Woodburn's loan to Sunderland suggest it may not be immediate. As they have had to be with the Guinean and Van Dijk, Liverpool fans may have to be patient.

The portents for spending big lumps of cash are not good at other clubs either – Manchester United blew their Cristiano Ronaldo windfall as did Spurs the Gareth Bale money – but you sense that Liverpool will not again make the mistake of frittering it away on a basketful of mediocrities or worse.

They will buy big and the choice could still decide whether Klopp and FSG will be the ones to return the club to what Fergie used to call their perch. With a fair wind, they should - it is an extraordinary amount of money that they did not need and there's enough for a top goalkeeper as well!


GOOD: Nottingham Forest
The 4-2 win over Arsenal was a long overdue moment of glory for the twice European Champions who are now managerless and almost 20 years outside the EPL. Yes, Arsenal played kids – but so did Forest. Theirs wanted it more.

BAD: Arsenal
As this trophy has kept him in a job, you'd have expected Arsene Wenger to treat it with more respect. But there was no Ozil, no Sanchez and no Lacazette - not even on the bench (!!!) Luck was against him but complacency is a Cardinal sin in the Cup and he should know better than most.

UGLY: Jose Mourinho/Antonio Conte spat
Amusing though it is, the rapidly descending war of words between these two grown men is sinking to Trump-Kim Jong Un levels.

STUPID: Diego Costa (pix)
You can understand his delight at marking his return to Atletico with a home goal but he knows the law – jumping into the crowd means a yellow card – and he'd already been booked. Even manager Diego Simeone didn't defend his "stupidity".