Roberto Firmino, the bad transfer and how Liverpool shocked Jurgen Klopp
It’s summer 2015, and Jurgen Klopp just can’t believe what Liverpool are doing.
Taking advantage of a sabbatical in his home country of Germany after spending seven years at the helm of Borussia Dortmund, Klopp saw a press article.
In England, the Reds had signed Roberto Firmino from Hoffenheim in a deal that could cost them up to Â£ 29million.
“He was a player who I thought was one of the best in the Bundesliga,” Klopp said. “So when I saw Liverpool signed him I was like ‘How could Liverpool do that?’.
âThey weren’t at their 100% best time and other clubs would have spent more on him. So I immediately thought ‘What a good transfer for them’.
âI thought the clubs would have paid a lot more for him. From his first day (at Hoffenheim) everyone could see he would be a very, very good player, and when Liverpool took him I thought they had made a good choice.
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Having struggled the previous year with their recruiting following the departure of Luis Suarez, Liverpool had gone the extra mile to ensure Firmino signed on the dotted line.
With Firmino tempted by the prospect of joining compatriot Philippe Coutinho at Anfield, Reds general manager Ian Ayre, no doubt aware of previous failures to close potential transfers, flew to Santiago, where Brazil were preparing for a quarterback. of the Copa America final against Paraguay, to get things done.
Ayre returned from Chile with a sorted deal and personal terms agreed with Firmino on a five-year contract. But rather than a cause for celebration, behind the scenes the Brazilian had unwittingly found himself at the center of a long-standing power struggle between manager Brendan Rodgers and the club’s transfer committee.
Rodgers, unhappy that he was persuaded to sign Mario Balotelli the previous year against his better judgment, accepted Firmino’s signing on condition that Christian Benteke, his prime target for the big money, was bought later.
Benteke arrived for Â£ 32.5million a fortnight later, assuring that Firmino was only briefly Liverpool’s second most expensive signing, with the Belgian taking the number nine shirt. Firmino took the number 11 from the start of Osama Assaidi.
âHe’s a first-class player,â Rodgers said. âHe has all the traits and profile that we would want as a player – he works very, very hard, he’s a talented player and someone who we think can score goals for the team.
âOf course there is no pressure. It just takes a little time to adjust.
From the start, however, it was clear Rodgers wasn’t quite sure how best to employ Firmino while looking to use Benteke as a target man as well.
After two brief substitute appearances, the Brazilian started four successive Premier League games on the right flank – none of which were won – and suffered a back injury when Rodgers was dumped hours after a draw 1- 1 in Everton.
Enter Klopp. And if Firmino had been a “good transfer” earlier, he was on the verge of being.
“It was a short period (under Rodgers) but I considered him a great manager even though I didn’t have a lot of playing time under him,” Firmino said.
âWhen the results are not there, it is essential to change manager.
âI think Klopp has the typical German mentality. I like his German methods, he concentrates and concentrates on what he wants. I think he will help us. It brings good vibrations.
Klopp was also encouraged. “I didn’t know him as a person before coming here, but I knew him and loved him as a player and he’s still not 100% where he can go – not even close yet,” did he declare. âWe spoke at the start and you can tell by his face that he can’t wait to work together. There’s a lot to come and it’s a good situation for the club.
The first task was to find Firmino’s best position. A trip to Chelsea was on the horizon and the new Liverpool boss was asked what he can do with the enigmatic striker.
âThe last time with Brazil he played like a nine,â Klopp said. “Usually he plays in attacking midfield or second striker or comes from the wing, but he can play in the middle.”
Sure enough, Firmino was the center forward at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea couldn’t keep up with his move. He provided an assist to Philippe Coutinho before Benteke on the bench came to seal a 3-1 victory.
It was the same story at the Etihad a few weeks later – Firmino with his first Liverpool goal and two more assists – as Manchester City were beaten 4-1, but outings in the role were rare with Benteke returning leading the attack.
Things changed after a 2-0 loss to West Ham United in January 2016 where Firmino had played in an attacking midfielder position behind Benteke. In the next Premier League home game against Arsenal, the Brazilian was back as a nine and scored twice before Benteke, who started again in the second half, late equalized for Joe Allen in a game. draw 3-3.
Firmino scored three more goals and provided two assists in his next four starts at the post ahead of Daniel Sturridge’s return and Divock Origi’s form saw him retreat from being the spearhead of the attack, playing in the new role only once again this campaign.
Indeed, in the last six Europa League games that season, Firmino – who had scored ahead of Kop in the last 16 wins against Manchester United – has played in five different positions, his versatility a blessing for the team but a slight curse on her tries to show her true worth.
While the final in Basel was a low point – the ineffective Brazilian, seeing a deflected penalty after a hand from Sevilla’s Daniel Carrico and substituted midway through the second half as Liverpool stumbled to a dismal 3-1 setback – the semi-final second home stage victory against Villarreal offered the perfect showcase of his talents.
Firmino forced an own goal from Bruno Soriano, then created the second for Sturridge. However, it was a skill that left Roberto Soldado bamboozled on the sideline for which the Brazilian is best remembered that night, the kind of daring and execution that helped defeat any remaining skeptics. in the stands.
At the end of his first campaign at Anfield, 11 goals and 11 assists in 49 appearances underscored why he has become Liverpool’s most used player under Klopp.
With the arrival of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, Liverpool’s strike force was ready to take on England, Europe and, indeed, the world.
Now 30 years old and in his sixth year for the club, Firmino’s 90-goal tally in 297 appearances so far may be that of a striker with closed eyes, but his 63 assists underscore to how much he remains an integral part of Liverpool’s style of play.
No wonder Klopp couldn’t believe it when Liverpool took the plunge. The Reds boss has been eternally grateful to have inherited the player who has continued to truly rock his conquering side.
A version of this article first appeared on May 6, 2020.