Roll the clock back just shy of three years. Anthony Martial had just captured headlines and devastated Liverpool’s brittle Brendan Rodger’s era defense. A cursory glance at a footnote in that game saw Jordan Ibe replacing the then new, misfiring signing, Roberto Firmino after less than seventy minutes on the pitch in a crucial Premier League clash. It was a sign of the times.
Impossible as it now seems, one of the current darlings of The Kop enjoyed a rocky start to his career at Anfield. Clearly not fancied by Rodgers, Firmino was left out wide, on the periphery of the action and more than a few grumbles were aimed at him in the dying days of Liverpool’s time with their Northern Irish manager.
Cue Klopp’s timely arrival and the man who had been left on the fringes, exploded into life under the German’s stewardship. Firmino has just enjoyed the best campaign of his career and is now finally being talked about as the world class footballer he truly is. Such is his vital role and importance to Liverpool; it is not too outlandish to suggest the Brazilian has just about shaded Mohamed Salah as the most important player in Klopp’s would-be title challengers.
Hungry for success
Hailing from the poor Northern Brazilian city of Maceio, where as of 2014, 135 crimes were committed per 100,000 residents. The son of water vendor, he has known real poverty and frustration.
His mother was fearful that her boy might end up dragged into gangs and so he’d often have to sneak out to play football in his bare feet, climbing over the wall of his family home to join his friends. It is clear this was no middle-class kid who’d grown up pampered in academies. Like Liverpool legend Luis, Suarez, he was a hungry, street footballer, bursting at the seams to make it at the top.
His performances as a rough and ready youngster in the Bundesliga caught the eye of Jurgen Klopp, then, of course, manager of Borussia Dortmund. Klopp’s revealing interview in December 2016 casts his number nine in an even more favorable light:
“Nobody asked me about him but he was a player I thought was one of the best in the Bundesliga. So when I saw that Liverpool had signed him I thought: ‘How could Liverpool do this?’ “They were not in their 100% best moment and other clubs would have spent more on him so I thought immediately: ‘What a good transfer for them.”
Every top player must have that extra bit inside them that other players simply cannot access at key moments on the pitch. Firmino’s background had already instilled in him the desire to perform an achieve at the very highest level. He has clearly also found the manager and club to provide him with the platform so crucial for his development. This has also given him the a vital leg up to be the pivotal player for this Liverpool team ahead of stars like Sadio Mane and the free scoring Mohamed Salah.
Goals, assists and play
Most will simply point to the free scoring, world class football played by Mohamed Salah last season as comprehensive proof that he is Liverpool’s key man. However, every great player needs top players around him. Bobby Firmino is a player who contributes on so many different levels to Liverpool’s whirlwind, high pressing game. His graft on the pitch helps to create so much space, and his eye for a pass is up there with the best in the game.
His rising stock over the past twelve months have seen him go from something of a cult hero to a player on the fringes of being rightfully billed as a world beater. You only need to take a look at his raw stats to see what a contribution he has made to Liverpool, particularly since Klopp’s arrival. He has been involved in a staggering eighty nine goals since in his career thus far, almost half of those coming last season.
|Ranking||Player||Team||Average Distance Covered (km)|
|1||Christian Eriksen||Tottenham Hotspur||11.97|
|6||Gylfi Sigurdsson||Swansea City||11.42|
|7||Wilfried Ndidi||Leicester City||11.31|
|8||Sam Clucas||Hull City||11.30|
|10||Marten de Roon||Middlesbrough||11.19|
Average distance covered by Premier League players 2016/17
The stats speak for themselves, but Firmino also plays a vital role as one of Klopp’s destroyers. The demanding toll of the high press seems almost tailor made for man of Firmino’s outstanding natural athleticism and desire. Salah’s work rate is similarly impressive, but his game is all about that burst of pace, cutting in and causing havoc from wide. Yes he has to press and get involved, but Bobby is the water carrier of the front three, without the effort and intelligence he plays with, there would be far less space in the key areas for the likes of Salah and Mane to thrive in.
Blessed with a beautiful first touch and a deadly eye for a pass, the weight of Firmino’s final ball is often spot on. You only need look at his incredible Champions League performances against Manchester City and A.S Roma which are proof that this was a man at the very height of his playing power.
Style and substance
Both players are blessed with natural ability seldom seen at Anfield in recent years. Arguably, only Luis Suarez was as good on the ball in the past three decades as Firmino and Salah. While Bobby does not possess that searing pace of his Egyptian team mate, he does posses gain that vital extra yard by simply being able to think a hell of a lot quicker than most in the Premier League.
His speed of thought and clever feet, allow him to gain that extra yard and spring a deadly counter with the correct pass. Salah too has beautiful feet and natural skill, and between the two of them, plus the often bizarrely overlooked Sadio Mane, they are surely, on their day one of the most potent attacking forces in world football.
Bobby’s pivotal role is very unlikely to remain under the radar for much longer. Brazil are talking more and more notice of Liverpool’s number nine, and if he can ratchet up his game from the hinterlands of world class then he could well prove to be the difference for Liverpool push for major honours at the top of the game once more. Liverpool will be desperate to fend off any attempts to sign him from other predatory clubs. Their style of play hinges on the likeable, top class forward, another Bobby Firmino would be very difficult to find indeed.