Liverpool sanctioned a seismic transfer while the bulk of Jürgen Klopp’s squad were in Dubai but, as far as Alex Oxlade‑Chamberlain is concerned, reverberations from Philippe Coutinho’s £142m move to Barcelona will not damage the dressing room. The “new boy” is not being cold or dismissive towards a team-mate of merely four months. It is, he says, strictly business, and the responsibility of every Liverpool player to compensate for the second biggest transfer fee of all time.
“I haven’t really even thought about Phil leaving,” insists Liverpool’s summer arrival from Arsenal, fresh from the mid-season break that followed the FA Cup defeat of Everton. “You pay it attention and you realize it happens but you can’t think: ‘What are we going to do now that Phil is not here?’. It can’t be that at all. It’s business as usual.
“When Phil didn’t play in some games we still played great football and we still have amazing players who can score goals – the likes of Mo [Salah], Sadio [Mané], Roberto [Firmino] and everyone else. We have goals and creativity all over the team. Obviously Phil added to that, there is no doubt about that. The fact is he has gone now and we have to think about what we have got that is going to get the job done. I have every faith in the boys that we just move on now. I don’t think it should affect us at all.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain is effusive in his praise of the Brazil international; protective too, as witnessed by his defense of Coutinho when the then delicate subject of Barcelona cropped up on Sky after Liverpool’s win at Bournemouth last month. But he is a professional who witnessed big departures and big arrivals at Arsenal, and knows the effect of Coutinho’s transfer on Liverpool will be determined by the response of those he left behind. Virgil van Dijk’s £75m arrival and match-winning debut in the derby is, he believes, evidence that the process is under way positively.
“I am the type of person who relishes the chance to stand up and perform under pressure, I have had to do that my whole career,” the 24-year-old says. “I was at a big club previously and being at a big one now, you know you are always going to have to perform under pressure.
“I knew Phil was a world-class talent before I joined. Since I arrived I saw what an influential part he was of the side. In the short history he was here, Phil was a big character around the place, a fan favorite and rightly so. He was an amazing player who did great things for Liverpool. You want as many good players as possible in your team but that is football, that’s the business – people come, people go. Clubs will lose great players and great players will come in.
“We have just brought in Virgil and what an amazing addition he has been. In the short time he has been here, he has brought that air of confidence with his persona and that has been a big lift for us.
“At a massive club like Liverpool, people will come and go. It is our job to keep the wheels moving and momentum going. You don’t like to see friends go – Phil is a really good guy – but for me it is business as usual. I’ve got every respect for Phil and his decisions, I wish him all the best, but he is not in my thoughts right now as we move on forward.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain admits Coutinho’s absence from the Liverpool midfield represents “an opportunity for me, just as it is for the rest of the boys who want to play there”. The opportunity had been taken prior to the Brazilian’s exit, however. The midfielder required patience as well as receptiveness towards Klopp’s methods following his deadline day move from Arsenal for an initial £35m. Oxlade-Chamberlain started only three of Liverpool’s first 15 games after the transfer window but has begun seven of the last dozen.
“You want to play as much as possible but I am not the type of character to go bursting walls down,” he says of the quiet start to life at Anfield. “I knew coming into a new environment that the manager would want me to learn the way he wants me to play and how to play best with the team. I respected I was the new boy and I had a lot of learning to do. So I got my head down and did exactly that. Slowly but surely I got my foot in the door and started playing a bit more but I know in football that can change quickly.
“The biggest thing I’ve had to learn is how this manager likes to stop situations at source and how he likes to attack is slightly different to how my manager before [Arsène Wenger] liked to attack. There’s not really one right and one wrong way but after six years at one club certain things become second nature to you and it takes time to break that instinct.”
The Guardian Sport