Steven Gerrard has hailed Philippe Coutinho and Lucas Digne as “statement signings” who have the “steel and style” to help turn Aston Villa into a major Premier League force again quickly.
“They are definitely a sign of optimism and ambition,” said Gerrard of this week’s arrivals. “We want to move now, we don’t want to wait.” The manager said the illustrious newcomers had the quality and knowhow to improve their teammates in much the same way as players such as Dietmar Hamann helped Gerrard to develop during his playing days at Liverpool.
“When I was younger I was lucky enough to play with Dietmar Hamann and Gary McAllister, players with real pedigree who had been there and done it before and they helped take my game to the next level,” he said. “Just being around them, watching them on a daily basis. We’ve got young defenders, midfielders and attacking players who will really look up to Lucas and Phil, really appreciate what they have done in their careers and strive to be similar to them. In the last couple of days you’ve seen an excitement in the dressing room that we’ve signed two players who are ready now, with real pedigree and that still have bundles left in our opinion.”
Coutinho arrived on loan from Barcelona, where he had a seesaw period since joining from Liverpool in 2018. Gerrard scoffed at the notion that the 29-year-old Brazilian, with whom he played at Anfield, may be past his best.
“We’ve signed a wonderful footballer,” said Gerrard. “It makes no sense for me to listen to keyboard warriors in Barcelona. I know the player, I know the boy and I’m confident we can get him moving. He’s a fantastic talent. He needs to smile and enjoy his football, feel the confidence, support and the love, and I’ve got no doubt that we’ll see the real Philippe Coutinho.”
Helping Coutinho find fun again is the key to getting him to express his talent, said Gerrard. “I think Philippe would say that himself and that’s probably the reason why we’ve had the opportunity to bring him here. You can see clearly that he’s a player that needs to feel loved and supported, like the majority of footballers. I was the same.”
Gerrard was equally enthusiastic about Digne, saying Villa pounced once they learned that the left-back had become unhappy at Everton. “He’s a top player with a top pedigree who knows how to win – he brings that experience. At the same time, he fits into the system and how we want to play, which is vital. His chance creation, his crossing quality, his athleticism and also he’s capable of being very astute defensively.”
Gerrard suggested Villa may make further additions this month, identifying centre-back as one area he would like to strengthen after Axel Tuanzebe’s departure.
Coutinho and Digne could make their debuts on Saturday when Villa host Manchester United, who knocked them out of the FA Cup on Monday, when Villa were aggrieved to have a goal disallowed.
“I’m sure Villa Park will be bouncing,” said Gerrard. “I’m sure there will be a little more of an edge because of what happened on Monday night but also the arrival of two fantastic players. We can’t wait for it.”