Philippe Coutinho can still go up another level, says Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard, after the playmaker signed a permanent deal with club on Thursday.
Coutinho, 29, initially joined Villa on a six-month loan from Barcelona in the January transfer window, with Gerrard hoping to be able to then persuade the player to move to Villa Park permanently.
The Brazil international, who made his Villa debut as a substitute against Manchester United on January 15, has so far contributed four goals and three assists in his 16 Premier League appearances.
As a result, Coutinho – who used to play alongside Gerrard at Liverpool – has now decided to swap the Camp Nou for the west Midlands, signing a four-year contract with the club.
When asked why he thought Coutinho made the swap from Barcelona to Birmingham, Gerrard initially joked: “Probably my banter and my company to be honest!”
He then added: “I was aware a little bit before it was announced and I think it’s fantastic for everyone connected with the club. You’ve seen the reaction from the supporters, it’s very positive, they’ve seen him over the last five or six months play ever so well.
“He’s still got loads left in him, in our opinion. To have him here full time and settled, I think he’ll come again and go up another level because of that feeling of knowing where he’s going to be playing for the next four years.
“I think he is a player that needs to feel wanted, he needs to feel support. Everyone at Villa is playing their part… the owners especially have made him feel really special. He feels really happy here and it’s fantastic that he wants to be part of this journey.
“I think you can’t underestimate football happiness. In any walk of life, in any job, you’ve got to get out of bed with a purpose and with a drive and energy to enjoy your role. In football terms, that is to feel support from your team-mates, from your staff but also from your supporters.
“If you get out of bed every morning and you’re playing for an ambitious club where there’s a journey and everyone is pushing to move it forward and improve it, and you’re a big part of that and you’re made to feel welcome and people want to build around you, that’s very important in Phil’s situation.”
‘Coutinho can inspire young players and attract new signings’
Aston Villa midfielder Jacob Ramsey recently said he watches everything Coutinho does in a bid to become a better player, and Gerrard is under no illusions about the Brazilian’s impact on Villa’s young players.
He said: “Phil is very humble, he’s very quiet the way he goes about things but he’s extremely professional. He’s someone who sets standards on a daily basis and when you’re a young player, you look for those role models.
“You watch them carefully, you want to copy them and learn how they’ve become world-class. They should be watching the likes of Philippe Coutinho and our senior pros and watched why they’ve played at the top for so long and why they’re serial winners.
“To have the likes of Ashley Young and Coutinho in the building is like gold dust for them.”
With the transfer window on the horizon, Gerrard is hopeful that the permanent capture of Coutinho can help Villa attract new players.
When the question was put to him in his pre-Crystal Palace press conference, the manager said: “Yes, I’m sure it will. Good players want to play with good players – it’s pretty simple.
“In my short time being a manager previously before coming here and also in the first window [at Aston Villa], when you speak to players and you sit down, they ask questions about the current squad, about loan players and where you’re taking the journey and the ambition of the club.
“The question of whether Coutinho will become a permeant signing has been asked before for sure.”
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