As one of the biggest clubs in England historically, Aston Villa are a club who pride themselves on success. They are also a club who, for the last decade or so, has treaded water when it comes to being seen as a genuine force in English football. Not since the days of Martin O’Neill have Villa been close to entering the UEFA Champions League – a tournament they won when it was the European Cup.
For such a proud club, being on the periphery of the action was a hard thing to accept for fans. However, even more challenging was relegation and the long journey to returning to at least being a top-half football club in the Premier League. However, the last 18 months have seen Villa transformed. After just staying up in their first season back under Dean Smith, last year seen a Jack Grealish-inspired Villa side impress and compete for a European spot for much of the season.
This year seen Villa fall away, with the exit of Grealish and a rush of new signings not quite gelling together as some would have hoped. This led to Smith exiting the club, being replaced by former Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. With a huge contact book and a reputation with the modern player far beyond that of which Smith could cultivate, Gerrard has set about making some big signings.
Lucas Digne has arrived from Everton, giving Villa a much more attack-minded full-back than they had with the reliable Matt Targett. However, the big signing of the winter window so far has been that of Philippe Coutinho.
Having played under Gerrard as his captain, the Brazil international sprung at the chance to escape his Barcelona nightmare and return to the Premier League.
Can Coutinho succeed where Villa have failed?
It would be fair to say that Villa have not quite used the Grealish money to rebuild their team in the right image. Various systemic issues have plagued the season so far, leaving Villa looking imbalanced. A side that was built around the creativity of Grealish last year has struggled to find a formation and style that gets the most out of the odd combination of stars they now have.
Coutinho, though, is going to offer a player who, on his day, can exceed what the homegrown star provided. Prior to his move to Barcelona, few would argue that Coutinho was among the best playmaking midfielders in the world. Failure at Barcelona is nothing to be ashamed of, as the club itself has fallen into major disrepair in just about every way since the Luis Enrique days.
Coutinho will be arriving in a squad that has a large playmaker-shaped hole, and will be playing under a coach who knows him and adores him. Given the poor and often shoddy treatment given when at FCB, this could be the restart he needs.
With a World Cup to ensure he plays in as it might be his last, Coutinho needs this move to work out. While his FC Bayern loan was successful for the club, the player never looked truly happy in Bavaria. A return to the madness of English football, and into a team like the Liverpool side he started out in, could be just what he needs.