Coutinho and Zico – Two Brazilian magicians compared to one another

After Liverpool beat Arsenal 4-3 at Emirates, Philippe Coutinho scoring two goals and contributing to another goal, Jordan Henderson talked to Liverpool Echo, thinking and saying it won’t be long before Coutinho is mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez.

Henderson said: “Messi, Ronaldo and Suarez – they are seen as the elite players in world football. Philippe has certainly got the talent, the work ethic and the hunger to get into that bracket. He’s a fantastic player for us. I’ve seen him develop as a player during his time at Liverpool and he’s still only 24. If he continues to work as hard as he does and continues to develop like he has done then I’m sure he will be in that bracket before long. He’s still very young. Hopefully it won’t be long before people do regard him alongside the Messis of this world. We have to try to keep him fit and keep him playing like that because he was brilliant against Arsenal.”

None of the players mentioned by the current Liverpool captain are Brazilians like Coutinho. Let me just add to what he says, and take into account the fact that I am 45 whilst Henderson is 26. My player of choice will be Artur Antunes Coimbra – better known as Zico. As an active player Zico was a world class attacking midfielder, just like Philippe Coutinho is today. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Zico was one of the very best footballers in the world. He took plenty of great shots from a distance, he scored goals from inside the box, too. He was also known as a great passer of the ball. If he had won the World Cup title in 1978 or 1982, he would have been seen as a better player than Diego Maradona. One might say his fate in this repect is very much like the fate of a great and versatile forward like Kenny Dalglish. He was Scottish, therefore he could never be seen as a player to rate as highly as Michel Platini and Diego Maradona could be.

Henderson mentions the work ethics when talking about Coutinho. This is something everyone is aware of when it comes to the legendary Zico. As a youth player Zico was put on an extensive and hard fitness work schedule. He was skinny and had to become more muscular. Lots of training and a good team diet made him become an athlete as well as a brilliant player who could score all kinds of goals in all imaginable ways. Chosen World Player of the Year in 1981 and 1983, Zico is widely known as the best player ever not to win a World Cup trophy. In this way he will remain in the same bracket as Johan Cruyff and ultimately also Lionel Messi. Apart from two seasons in Italy playing for Serie A club Udinese, Zico spent twenty years as a Flamengo player before and after his brief Udinese spell, then finished off his active career playing for Kashima Antlers.

Zico much later said: “I can happily say that I gave my blood to Flamengo in my twenty years there, and I gave it with love, with pride and with great honour.”

As a child he was a fanatic supporter of Flamengo, and jumped at the opportunity to sign a youth contract for his favourite club at the age of fourteen.

“I was really skinny, and had to work very hard in training,” Zico said.

But he was seen as a genius by everyone who ever watched him play as a 14 and 15-year-old starlet. And yes, he became a player known to really being close to the fans. “Yes, I played like a supporter of the club, and the fans at Maracana could easily see that.”

Another great Brazilian player, Socrates, said: “For us, he was a guy who could finish a game off. So when I played with Zico it was like cooking. All I would have to worry about was preparing the dinner, safe and acknowledged everything would come out fine in the end.”

And yes: Bob Paisley was astonished as Flamengo with that virtually unknown star called Zico played football like Samba dancers and won the World Club Cup final versus Liverpool 3-0 in Tokyo in 1981. Everyone was baffled.

Well, everyone apart from Joe Fagan. Fagan was angry with the Liverpool players who took part in this match.

Since completing his 8.5m move from Inter Milan to Liverpool in January 2013, Philippe Coutinho has scored thirty goals for Liverpool – thirteen of them from outside the box. If he can train more on free-kicks, I feel certain Coutinho would soon become a free kick goal scorer of great renown, just like fellow Brazilian Zico was. As it is, Coutinho is a player who has proved able to score brilliant goals from outside the box. Free kicks like that free kick goal against Arsenal at Emirates must be a feat the Liverpool fans would love to see more often. Watching videos of Zico’s extreme lot of free kick goals won’t do the trick. It takes a great lot of training. Simple shooting practice from outside the box and a wall of players lined up right inside the 18 yard line, then start shooting and shooting until the proper technique is eventually to be considered a no brainer. If only for Coutinho and no one else than him.

After the Arsenal match, Coutinho said: “The most important thing is the group. But the more goals I score the more I can help the team. I am happy not only because I scored two goals but because the team played well and we got the three points we wanted.” Talking to Liverpool Echo he added: “Yes, I think I can score more goals this season. I always said that the one thing I really needed to improve was to score more goals. I did that last season and now I want to keep on improving.”

Written by Magne Leonard Karlsen – @MagneLeoKarlsen

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