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Philippe Coutinho (l.) is thriving in the James Rodriguez (r.) role at Bayern Munich. - © Getty Images
Philippe Coutinho (l.) is thriving in the James Rodriguez (r.) role at Bayern Munich. - © Getty Images

Why Philippe Coutinho will prove to be a better signing for Bayern Munich than James Rodriguez


Philippe Coutinho arrived at Bayern Munich last summer billed as the successor to James Rodriguez as the Bundesliga champions' resident South American genius, but the Brazilian is already showing signs he will surpass the exploits of the Colombian at the Allianz Arena.

James set the bar high during his two years at Bayern, but there is already little doubt the Bavarian powers-that-be have even bigger dreams of what Coutinho can achieve having inherited the fabled No.10 shirt from departed icon Arjen Robben.

"We wanted to show Philippe and our fans how important this signing is for us, and why we are giving him the number 10 shirt," explained Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge at Coutinho's official presentation as the ex-Liverpool man grinned alongside him after completing his season-long loan move from Barcelona.

Watch: Relive Philippe Coutinho's official unveiling as a Bayern player

Drawing parallels with James is irrestible: a successful career elsewhere in Europe to ride the crest of a wave to La Liga before hitting stormier waters where Real Madrid for James and Barca for Coutinho — temporarily at least — got the better of their talents.

But what Bayern saw in both is that their game-turning potential remains fully intact, undiminished by a spell in Spain that did not live up to expectations.

Following in the footsteps of compatriots such as Giovane Elber, Ze Roberto and Lucio in joining Bayern, the arrival of Coutinho — a bona fide Brazil international in the era of Neymar & Co. — pushed those expectations still higher.

"The BL is getting a sensational player that can take our team to a whole new level," insisted sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic, who played alongside many of the new arrival's illustrious compatriots in a Bayern shirt.

"He'll put our other attacking players in good postions and can score himself too. We are more versatile and we have more options with him in the team. We have a truly spectacular player in our ranks."

Bundesliga defenders are fast getting used to seeing the back of two-time La Liga winner Coutinho. - Matthias Hangst/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

Coutinho has 'Grateful' tattooed in large letters across his chest, and the 27-year-old looks intent on showing Bayern he is just that for them giving him the chance to return to regular first-team action at the very pinnacle of the European game.

He has certainly found his feet quicker than James did in Germany. In Coutinho's first seven games in all competitions, he has two goals and three assists; James could boast just a single marker in both categories in the same timeframe.

"I think everyone in the stadium today and everyone who watched the match once again saw the ability he has and the quality he has on the ball. At times it really looks like he's dancing with the ball, there's no other way of saying it. He knows exactly when, how and what to do with the ball," gushed coach Niko Kovac after the virtuoso display Coutinho provided in the 3-2 win over Paderborn on Matchday 6, the second successive league match in which he scored a goal and set up another.

"He'll definitely help us even more," Kovac said, sounding an ominous note for Bayern's rivals this season. "He's already contributing, he's integrated well and is happy here. And when a South American player with his kind of quality is happy, then you can see how fantastic that is."

Coutinho has nailed down the No.10 role in Niko Kovac's first-choice XI in no time at all. - imago images/Pressefoto Baumann

While James did not always give the impression of loving life in Germany, Coutinho has given off positive vibes since setting foot in Munich. His smile and impeccably dazzling teeth have been almost omnipresent as he goes about his business of keeping both his employers and the club's fans just as content as he is.

Despite his star status, the Rio de Janeiro-born magician has kept his twinkle-toed feet on the ground, meaning he needs none of the trappings nor provides any of the headaches that come with it. His 'the team comes first' attitude has allowed him to fit seamlessly into a dressing room already full of world-class players whose egos have been put aside for the benefit of the side.

"He doesn't need glamour, so we don't need to create anything special for him," explained Kovac, who was one of the main advocates of Coutinho's arrival. "He wants to settle into our club, Munich and Germany."

While the Bavarian greeting 'Servus' seems to be the only word he has mastered so far in his slim lexicon of the local lingo, Coutinho's ability to speak the language of football with rare fluency means his understanding of his teammates — on the pitch at least — has developed uncannily quickly.

"He set up the first goal brilliantly," said Kovac of Coutinho's delicious assist on the strike netted by Serge Gnabry against Paderborn before the Germany international returned the favour later in the game. "With his goal, the build-up was the other way around with Serge teeing him up with a superb pass. That's individual quality."

Most importantly, he appears to have hot-wired a telepathic link between himself and the man he was signed to provide the ammunition for, Bayern's goalgetter-in-chief Robert Lewandowski.

"They understand each other very well. They are there for one another, and you can see that on the pitch," explained an admirative Kovac. "I've already spoken about the way Coutinho finds Lewandowski on the pitch, and makes sure that no defender can intercept the ball."

Watch: Coutinho reflects on Robert Lewandowski's incredible penalty gesture

"His final ball is just insane," added last season's Bundesliga leading scorer, who gave up the penalty-taking duties to enable Coutinho to open his Bayern account with a spot-kick against Cologne on Matchday 5, a sign of his esteem for his new teammate.

"He can be the key in important games, such as the Champions League, and give us something special. It makes us more unpredictable, which makes us more dangerous."

The record German champions more dangerous?!?! Yikes! Look out Bundesliga! Kovac had claimed that "regardless of whether you're a Paderborn or Bayern supporter – or any other fan – you will have enjoyed watching him today" following Coutinho's Matchday 6 masterclass.

If Coutinho continues in his current vein of irrepressible form, it's not certain opposing fans will agree with you, Niko…

Ian Holyman