Born in Maceió, Roberto Firmino began plying his trade in a town over 3000km from his birth place for Figueirense. He joined 1899 Hoffenheim in January 2011 where the gradual increase in his contribution to the team prompted the big guns in Europe to take notice. A big catalyst for Firmino’s rise was the signing of Kevin Volland in the summer of 2012. Together they both contributed 67 goals to Hoffenheim over the course of three seasons pushing Hoffenheim up from 16th to 8th over that period. As an attacking midfielder who primarily thrives in the number 10 role, his versatility to play anywhere across the front three and his form prompted a national call up by Dunga.
Move to the Kop
There were murmurs that English giants, Liverpool and Man Utd, were battling for the signature of Memphis Depay who had just finished firing PSV Eindhoven to the title with an impressive 22 goals. Louis van Gaal’s influence persuaded Memphis to make to switch to the Theatre of Dreams. What followed could not have been envisaged by many. Within two weeks of Man Utd confirming the capture of Depay, LFC Chief Executive Ian Ayre was on a plane to reportedly thrash out personal terms with Roberto Firmino. There were also tentative talks with the agents of Carlos Bacca and Salomon Rondon who Liverpool were reportedly mulling over moves for; looking to add the necessary firepower desperately lacking in the 2014/15 season due to the departure of El Pistolero to Barca. Add to this Daniel Sturridge suffering a torrid time with injuries throughout 2014/15 after returning from International duty injured, and Liverpool almost resigned to losing former QPR youngster Raheem Sterling after his controversial comments in an interview with the BBC towards the end of the 2014/15 season. In the space of a year LFC’s attack had lost a combined total of 61 league goals from that incredible 13/14 season where they came agonisingly close to the title.
Was Depay a smokescreen? or was this another case of Manager wanting one player and the transfer committee wanting another? Who knows. Either way for once Ayre sealed the deal having previously struggled to strike deals for Yehven Knoplyanka, Willian, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to name a few. His perceived incompetence in being able to get deals over the line even saw someone create a hilarious petition to get him removed from his position of Chief Executive. Whilst still on Copa America Duty, it was announced that Liverpool would sign Firmino from Hoffenheim for a fee in the region of £21million which included £8million in performance related add-ons.
Firmino, then lacking match fitness, was used a substitute in Liverpool’s first two games of the season replacing Jordon Ibe in both instances, not adding anything of note in the slim 1-0 victories over Stoke and Bournemouth. He started the next game against Arsenal and was very good for the 62 minutes he played, providing a few incisive passes particularly one to Benteke, who could only put his shot straight at Petr Cech. In that moment Firmino should have registered his first assist for Liverpool. He was ominous in the damaging defeats at home to West Ham, and away to bitter rivals Manchester United. Against Norwich at home, Bobby was dropped to the bench but with the game at 1-1 he was brought on after 72 minutes and immediately stung the palms of Ruddy before sending Coutinho racing clear to uncharacteristically fire straight at the keeper. Again Firmino should have been celebrating an assist. Unfortunately, he suffered a cracked bone in his back during the Capital One Cup Tie against Carlisle which forced him out for a month.
Return from injury
On his return from injury a familiar foe from the Bundesliga was now at the LFC helm, but Firmino found himself again making short cameos from the bench, unable to register goal nor assist. Ramblings began growing from the LFC support questioning exactly what Firmino actually brings to the Liverpool squad. It took until the Chelsea away game for Firmino to register his first assist in the game at Stamford Bridge on 31st October 2015. In the game away at Manchester City after a frustrating loss to Crystal Palace, Firmino would register his first goal for the club scoring the third goal after a neat back heel from Emre Can set Coutinho free, who squared to Firmino to tap in, this after playing a neat reverse ball for Coutinho to score past Joe Hart for goal number two.
Frustratingly Liverpool and Firmino stuttered after the City win, and continued to stutter through December. Firmino did however register an assist for the Boxing Day win over champions elect Leicester City, crossing for Benteke to slide home. Liverpool started the year with an absolute stinker, going down 2-0 in the last league game to be held at the Boleyn Ground. A measly return of three assists and one goal saw many fans begin to call Firmino a Kop flop. Thirteen (13) is a number largely considered to be unlucky. Not for Bobby, as the 13th January 2016 saw the beginning of Firmino’s contribution in terms of goals and assists per game rise, had it not been for some laughable defensive lapses by LFC, he would have captured all the headlines. His second goal showed the class that this young man obviously possesses. From that game until now he has plundered seven (7) goals and four (4) assists and stands as the player who has the highest influence on goals and assists this year.
Bobby and the Uruguayan
The problem that remains for many fans is that for every notable performance there are a few performances where Firmino has not stood out, and been poor. Most recently he was very disappointing in the Capital One Cup final. In order to put this into perspective we will call on the first 18 months of a player who ended up lighting up Anfield before moving on to pastures new to play at ‘his level’, Luis Suárez, El Pistolero, Vampiro. In the turbulent January of 2011, Liverpool paid Ajax £22 million for a certain controversial Uruguayan. This amidst the club changing hands between Hicks & Gillett and the Fenway Sports Group in a bitterly disputed court battle.
Despite scoring on his debut a mere two mins after coming on against Stoke City, Luis Suárez would return four goals in the 13 fixtures of the 2010/11 season he featured in. What’s that? Suárez a one goal in three games striker, no way! Nonsense you say; but he was phenomenal at Ajax; his numbers at Ajax are incredible, but he wasn’t playing with Andy Carroll was he? 2011/12 saw a marked improvement but his numbers were still 11 goals in 31 games (note he was banned for eight games after he was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra), and four assists in the league. In fact, his overall statistics are helped by his goals in the cups and to note he was not that great in the Carling Cup final against Cardiff City (his first final for the club). However, Suárez fared a bit better in the FA Cup final loss to Chelsea.
The 2012/13 season saw Liverpool change managers, FSG unhappy that despite winning a cup the final league position and the unsavoury handling of the Evra situation decided that it was time for a new direction. King Kenny had steadied the ship after the Hodgson fiasco, but the board were looking at a young manager with new ideas to push LFC on. Brendan Rodgers was appointed. Fast forward to the January of 2013, Rodgers signed Philippe Coutinho for £8 million from Internazionale and Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea for £12 million. The emergence of Raheem Sterling, coupled with the purchases of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge meant that Brendan Rodgers had the personnel to create a system where the Uruguayan would thrive. The fire that has made the Uruguayan what he is today was being awoken.
Liverpool finished the season strongly Suárez grabbing 23 league goals in 33 games with five assists, progress was being made. Suarez did find himself in hot water for another unsavoury incident this time for biting Branislav Ivanovic, before heading in a last gasp equaliser for Liverpool; He was subsequently banned for 10 games. The memorable 2013/14 season saw Suárez hit a crazy 31 goals in 33 games despite being banned for the beginning of the season, he also provided 13 assists which finally saw him land the PFA Player of the year.
There is a notable steady rise in the contribution from Suárez to LFC since he joined the club to when he left. The two are different players yes, different styles, this is not the parallel to draw. Firmino currently has eight goals and seven assists. He is involved in a goal every 98 mins. To put this into perspective, Özil is involved in a goal every 102 mins, whilst Mahrez is on 88 mins and those two are having supposed stellar seasons. There are still 10 games to go, but look at where Suárez started to where he finished. If Firmino can show that steady rise, and Klopp can add further quality around Bobby then we’ve got another great player in the making on our hands.