Old friends Philippe Coutinho and Allan to meet again at Goodison

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Old friends with sights fixed on a fresh start will reunite today on Merseyside.

‘He’s like a brother to me,’ Philippe Coutinho told Sportsmail when Allan signed for Everton in 2020. ‘We are the same age, we played together in the youth teams at Vasco, we were both nervous in our first match as professionals and we played together in the national teams.’

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They collide at Goodison Park with Coutinho back in the city of Liverpool, for Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa, and with Allan preparing for life after Rafa Benitez and Duncan Ferguson back in caretaker charge of Everton. The pair became close friends at Vasco da Gama, giants of Rio de Janeiro who had fallen into the second tier of Brazilian football in 2009.

Old friends Philippe Coutinho and Allan to meet again at Goodison
© Provided by Daily Mail Old friends Philippe Coutinho and Allan reunite on the pitch when Aston Villa visit Everton
Old friends Philippe Coutinho and Allan to meet again at Goodison
© Provided by Daily Mail Coutinho (right) got off to a flying start on his return to the Premier League with Villa

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With no money for star players, they rebuilt around a core of young talent under coach Dorival Junior.

‘Coutinho was very young and a bit withdrawn,’ says Dorival. ‘He showed his personality with the ball at his feet. Allan had much more aggression and was willing to be on top of the opponent in any way he could.’

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The teenagers seized their chance. Coutinho was a year younger than Allan, and always considered the more gifted.

He remained at Vasco but his transfer to Inter Milan was in place, even before he turned professional at 18. Allan’s strengths were his great speed and stamina, quick to go forward and quick to get back and defend.

Off the field, they forged a close bond with Josef de Souza, now playing for Besiktas in Turkey, and they all lived together at the training complex. They loved to compete at head tennis and played video games before matches.

‘Allan will never confirm it, but I win most of the games of head tennis,’ jokes Coutinho. The trio still own homes close together in the same part of Rio and meet up to play head tennis when they are back in Brazil on holiday.

Old friends Philippe Coutinho and Allan to meet again at Goodison
© Provided by Daily Mail Everton midfielder Allan was described by former team-mates in Brazil as ‘always shy’

Back then, however, they all burned with the ambition of a career in Europe. ‘We were so young and this was our greatest dream,’ says Souza. ‘Allan was always shy. He is very special, with a good heart and a great family. As a player, we knew he would develop to be a great midfielder.’

Dorival, who was a defensive midfielder in his playing days, worked hard on Allan’s tactical positioning so he would not run himself into the ground in games, and moulded his talent. ‘I could see him turning into a star,’ says the 59-year-old. ‘Coutinho was the great player of that generation and Allan grew during the years.

‘Vasco were in a bad situation and people kept saying “but they are kids”. I would reply, “So what if they are kids, we have to believe in our players”. It worked out, and we went up as champions.’

Dorival knew they would have to leave for Europe to complete their development. Coutinho joined Inter in 2010 and arrived at Liverpool three years later. Allan stayed at Vasco and won the Brazilian Cup while playing at right back, before he was sold to Udinese in 2012, then Napoli and Everton.

Dorival knows both men will have their eyes on the World Cup at the end of the year. Brazil have already qualified for Qatar and Coutinho has been called up for next week’s qualifiers. Allan is not in the current squad but still very much in manager Tite’s mind.

‘Coutinho had a lot of great moments in his career, but it doesn’t mean that he can’t achieve more,’ says Dorival. ‘At Barcelona, he might not have had the time to be confident, to play football like he is used to. Back in England, a place he knows like no other, he will find his way around.

‘Both of them will be on the list of players who might be in Qatar.

‘They are of the highest level. Allan has shown great consistency. Coutinho will always be a genius.’

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