Player power set to shape Reds transfers

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Reports claim Philippe Coutinho is desperate to join Barcelona.

Three days before Liverpool starts its English Premier League campaign, the club is embroiled in two extraordinary transfer standoffs that show how players are shaping their futures by wielding increased power.

British and Spanish media have reported that midfielder Philippe Coutinho wants to leave Anfield to join Barcelona, while Virgil van Dijk is keen to join Liverpool from EPL rival Southampton.

Each player is under contract until 2022, having signed extensions to their original contracts, and both clubs want them to stay. But that does not mean the deals are dead, even though neither player has the sort of buyout clause that allowed Neymar to leave Barcelona, prompting the Catalans to come calling for Liverpool's Brazil midfielder.

"Ninety-nine times out of 100 it is a power game, a case of who blinks first," sports legal expert Richard Cramer of FrontRow Legal said. "Player power is enormous. The reality is a club may make the right noises but player power is strong because a manager does not want a disillusioned player who can upset equilibrium in the dressing room and create disharmony. Players and agents are very experienced at forcing a situation."

Former Liverpool player Steven Gerrard believes that in Coutinho's case everything depends on how far the Brazilian is prepared to go to force a move.

"It comes down to Philippe Coutinho and his decision and what he's prepared to do, what type of war he's prepared to create to get out, because Liverpool won't make it easy for him," Gerrard, who is now Liverpool's academy coach, told BT Sport.

Such "wars" are increasingly common in football and Van Dijk sparked his own this week after several weeks spent training away from the first team. He has now requested a transfer. "I have been left frustrated by the club's position that I am not for sale and am disappointed that enquiries from multiple top clubs have been consistently rebuffed," said Van Dijk, who is fit again after an injury cut short his 2015-16 season.

Although the Dutch international did not mention Liverpool in his statement, Southampton reported the Merseyside club to the EPL earlier in the transfer window for an alleged illegal approach to the center back.

Liverpool subsequently apologized and said it had ended its interest in the player. However, British media say it is keen to rekindle it should Southampton agree.

That may not be possible given the original "tapping up" allegation. Under EPL rules, negotiations over personal terms can only begin once a fee with the seller is agreed, but few clubs adhere to the protocol.

The two deals are sensitive for Liverpool, which is treading a fine line between keeping its own key player and acquiring another, particularly after its failure to sign Nabi Keita, who Red Bull Leipzig has refused to sell — at least for now.

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