Steven Gerrard says Philippe Coutinho is a “special footballer” but will not say whether Aston Villa are trying to sign his former Liverpool team-mate.
The Brazil playmaker played alongside Villa boss Gerrard when Liverpool almost won the Premier League in 2014.
“He is someone I’ve got an incredible amount of respect for, but I don’t want to add to speculation because he belongs to Barcelona,” said Gerrard.
“I don’t think you get a nickname of ‘The Magician’ if you’re not a special footballer.
“I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about the player. He’s a friend of mine so if I’m asked the questions I can speak for as long as you want. But if you’re trying to link it to any speculation or catch me out you’re in for a long afternoon.”
Coutinho’s career has stalled since his £142m move from Liverpool in January 2018 and is keen for a fresh start.
The 29-year-old moved to Anfield from Inter Milan in January 2013 and spent two and a half years playing alongside Gerrard before the former England captain left for Los Angeles Galaxy in the summer of 2015.
Arsenal, Everton, Newcastle and Tottenham have also been linked with the player.
“He’s won two league titles at Barcelona, two Copa del Reys. If you go and have a look at his Wiki page you’ll see a serial winner wherever he goes,” said Gerrard, who succeeded Dean Smith as Villa boss in November.
“He’s won 63 caps for Brazil, played for Barcelona and was incredible at Liverpool.
“So I can understand why he’s linked to a lot of football clubs. I can understand why a lot of supporters up and down the country are speaking about him.”
‘Barcelona got completely the wrong player’
Coutinho’s future was discussed on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Euro Leagues podcast and Spanish football journalist Guillem Balague said the Brazilian wants to return to the Premier League.
“He is demanding to play, which he will not have the opportunity to do at Barcelona with a view to the Qatar World Cup,” said Balague.
“Aston Villa are ahead of the lot and Barcelona are negotiating with them but Coutinho is waiting to see who else wants to be in the auction.
“He is hoping for Arsenal and Spurs but they have not done so and Aston Villa is the level he is at – I don’t think he’s a top four or five player anymore.
“He had a very good first six months [at Barcelona], when he arrived inside the club they thought he was a replacement for Andres Iniesta but he isn’t.
“He drives with the ball, but not even fast, and the tricks he had were found out and his confidence suffered. Barcelona got completely the wrong player.
“To go into the Premier League, with the pace and intensity – something he has been missing with his lack of playing time – I don’t see him succeeding.”
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