BARCELONA — Ernesto Valverde declined to promise supporters that Barcelona will sign Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho this month, saying: “When there’s news, the club announces it.”
Diario Sport reported on Saturday that Barca and Liverpool have reached an agreement over a deal for Coutinho worth an initial €120 million, potentially rising to €160m, while Diario AS said the Brazil international could even be at Camp Nou for Sunday’s game against Levante.
Saturday is Three Kings’ Day in Spain, when presents are traditionally exchanged between family and friends, and Valverde was asked if Barca fans could finally look forward to the arrival of Coutinho, having seen the club fail with three bids in August.
“What the supporters want [for Three Kings’ Day], apart from good players, is that the team wins and plays well,” the Barca coach replied. “From my perspective, that’s what we can give them. I’m not one of the Kings so I can’t promise them anything else.”
Pressed for more information on the 25-year-old, who is currently absent with a thigh injury and has not travelled with Liverpool to their warm weather training camp in Dubai, he added: “He’s a great player, just like all the other great players I’m asked about that play for great teams. I can recognise that, but they’re at other teams.
“What I like to do is to talk about the players that I have here. That doesn’t mean I don’t rate Coutinho or the other great players in the world, but we also have great players.
“We haven’t signed anyone. When there’s [transfer] news, the club announces it.”
Meanwhile, Gerard Deulofeu looks set to leave Barcelona. Serie A side Inter Milan have confirmed they are interested in the winger, who has once again been left out of the squad for the Levante game.
“If Deulofeu asks to leave we’ll evaluate things, but that’s not happened yet,” Valverde said, hinting that he would be prepared to let him go.
“He has had his chances over the course of the season and now it’s time for others to have a chance. It’s about the coach having to make decisions. What he has to do is work hard to change his situation and get [back] in the squad.”
Deulofeu has fallen down the pecking order following the emergence of Barca B forward Jose Arnaiz, who has scored three goals in three Copa del Rey appearances this season.
Arnaiz is in the squad and could make his first La Liga appearance against Levante, while record signing Ousmane Dembele could make his first start since returning from four months out of action with a ruptured tendon.
“We have to be careful with [Dembele] because he needs to find his way back into the team’s dynamic, but of course he has a chance of starting,” Valverde said.
“He is looking good, much better. At first [when he signed], he was a little off but he’s been adapting. It’s similar now because he’s just come back from a serious injury. But we will have to see because competitive games are different to training.”
Like Deulofeu, Aleix Vidal and Rafinha have been omitted from the squad, while Barca are also missing Sergio Busquets (suspended), Arda Turan (fever) and Paco Alcacer and Samuel Umtiti (injured).
After Atletico Madrid’s 2-0 win against Getafe on Saturday, Barca need to beat Levante to restore their nine-point lead at the top of La Liga.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.