Liverpool are reportedly targeting West Ham United playmaker Manuel Lanzini as their preferred replacement for highly-rated midfielder Philippe Coutinho, whose lucrative January switch to Barcelona has all but been completed if a recent faux pas by Nike is to be believed.
The American sportswear giant set tongues wagging on Saturday evening (30 December) after suggesting under a heading on the Barcelona section of their website entitled "Where the Magic Happens" that Coutinho was ready to "light up" the Nou Camp and offering a link to supporters where they could purchase shirts with his name on the back.
"Get your 2017/18 FC Barcelona kit with the Magician's name on it. Act fast – free personalisation only available until 6 January," the store said, per the BBC.
IBTimes UK has contacted Nike, whose kit-manufacturing deal with Barcelona was extended last year and is rumoured to be worth approximately £120m ($162m) per season, for comment. The company also sponsors Coutinho.
Such an error was spotted and removed within minutes, although it only appears to have served to ramp up speculation that Coutinho will finally swap Merseyside for the sunnier climes of Catalonia after months of speculation and a summer saga which saw Liverpool reject three bids in excess of £100m despite receiving a transfer request.
The latest reports from Mundo Deportivo suggest that the Brazilian international, who has bounced back from that disappointment in fine style by scoring 12 goals and registering nine assists across all competitions during the first half of the 2017-18 campaign, has already begun the process of trying to find a house in Spain.
Though Liverpool have remained steadfast in their stance that Coutinho is simply not for sale at any price, it has been claimed that manager Jurgen Klopp is not ruling out the possibility of his departure and has begun fashioning contingency plans.
Lanzini has been linked frequently with Liverpool throughout the Coutinho epic and The Sun now claim that he is the number one choice to replace the 25-year-old should he finally be granted his dream move for a fee of approximately £115m.
It is reported that the Argentine, who returned from a contentious two-game diving ban on Boxing Day, is now valued in excess of £40m - over £30m more than the £9.5m that West Ham spent to convert his season-long loan from Abu Dhabi-based outfit Al Jazira into a permanent four-year arrangement in March 2016.
The technically-gifted and creative Lanzini, 24, has made 88 appearances since embarking upon his maiden stint in European football and Liverpool are said to view the former River Plate midfielder as a player with significant potential capable of making the step up to Champions League level and prospering in a lethal attack alongside the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
While Liverpool's attacking make-up will now be much discussed as rumours regarding Coutinho's exit continue to swirl, Klopp has already moved to address his squad's glaring defensive weaknesses by sealing a £75m deal for wantaway Southampton centre-back Virgil van Dijk.
The Dutch international will become the world's most expensive defender when he officially completes his record move to Anfield on New Year's Day.