“OUR faith is the weapon most feared by our enemies.”
A week ago, approximately 15 minutes after the Premier League fixtures for 2015-16 were announced, my phone beeped away. A former work colleague, who is a Manchester United enthusiast, texted me the bolded line above followed by what seemed an endless supply of HAHAHAHAHAHAs.
In past discussions, I had explained to him that those words, emblazoned on banners in different continents, wonderfully summed up the support of Liverpool FC — a belief so deep, it was a danger for the opposition. His combination of capitalised laughter and emoticons was in reaction to the cloud of defeatism that had been circling for a while, but turned a much darker shade when the first seven away fixtures of the new campaign were announced. Having watched the response to the daunting start unfold on Twitter, there was not much of a defence I could message back. And while I didn’t agree with the depths of the doom, I could understand why despair tinged the air.
When you watch players throw in the towel despite still having a good fight left, a manager that needed 180 pages to note the basics of his football thinking and tinkering run out of ideas, a legend you’ve grown up with going out the door, a gifted 20-year-old desperate to scale the wall and switch allegiances, coupled with that 6-1 fudgery at the hands of Stoke (Six One. Stoke), you’re bound to have to scratch behind the couch or under the kitchen sink to find some sparkle.
Liverpool would need to try to fix things in the transfer window — often the scene for more breakage — and so there needed to be more scrounging around the house, this time for shreds of confidence: look under the carpet, above the fridge. The safe bets got sorted sharpish, but did little to shift the worry. Then the fixture computer spewed out a challenging start, and concerns were compounded. Something, somewhere needed to give. Something, somewhere needed to bring the faith back to the surface.
I suggested Liverpool should buy some belief. Scratch that, I was basically on my knees, pleading for it. Often enough, supporters are a mirror for the club. Show them uncertainty and reluctance, and you’ll get 50 shades of grey skies. A perpetual state of miserableness. If fans sense ambition and intent, they’ll throw on the belief and swim in the swagger. Those clad in scarves aren’t the only ones who need convincing; the playing staff, the backroom team and all other aspects of the organisation need evidence of advancement, to be motivated, to know that golden skies are in the blueprint.
Roberto Firmino. SURPRISE! For you, for me, and not least for the club as this move was not initially part of the plan. At the start of last season, and all through it, several scattered showers warned this would be a relatively quiet, low-key window. A few nip and tucks were expected, but not a major makeover. A certified goalscorer was the priority (and still is), with designs for a right back — an improved bid of £10.5m, which could rise to £12.5m has been submitted for Nathaniel Clyne. I had stated a seismic shift had to occur for a change in approach, and there was very little indication that would happen.
Shift in Firmino. He’s not a nip or tuck. See all the smiles everywhere? That counts as a major makeover. The owners have not been talking, but perhaps they’ve been listening?
Tuesday night may as well have been the eve of everyone’s sweet 16. The anticipation, the exhilaration. Excitement the world over; in part over a fine signing, but predominantly over Liverpool’s actions: settle on an ambitious target, begin talks, sell as much as needed, pay what it takes, and close the deal. Get the business done, decisively. Before the others have a big enough sniff. Before you’re in an arm wrestle you can’t win.
There was still some disbelief and apprehension floating around at midnight, which was again understandable given how many deals have been downed like a tequila shot in recent history. But the official announcement on Wednesday morning, at 6:58, was a Happy fucking Birthday, Merry fucking Christmas and all that cheer rolled into one. Firmino was the football ecstasy pill everyone had been waiting to pop.
@Roberto_Firmino welcome to Liverpool my friend.
Bem-vindo ao meu amigo Liverpool
— Daniel Sturridge (@DanielSturridge) June 24, 2015
His signing has doggedly been advertised as separate to Raheem Sterling’s future, but the England international’s potential departure would definitely have been factored into considerations. Even if that is a prime reasoning for the alteration in tactic, it is welcome. Liverpool are on the front foot, ready to pivot, not panicking and putting the ball out of play.
Lessons are being learned. Dithering is not for a club who continuously highlight the Premier League title as its primary focus. Neither are excuses nor retreating. Liverpool cannot afford to pass sideways when those above them are relentlessly pressing forward. Perhaps this signals a realisation that the time for talking is over, especially as actions provide the most volume.
In Firmino, the club have recruited a creator of goals, a scorer of goals, and one that “smells goals” according to Brazil coach Dunga. He has enough confidence to fill Anfield a few times over, but is as shy off the field as the club’s fellow Brazilian playmaker. And like Philippe Coutinho, he complements his flair with a tirelessness. He has an appetite to tackle, to press, to intercept, to dribble, to play the final ball, to put it in the back of the net himself. He is made for Vine and is made of vigour.
The 23-year-old’s stats, flooded all over the internet, are as impressive as his willingness and ability to execute the audacious. Even more endearing though, is his constant pursuit of betterment. One such example: “I want to run more. I run an average of 12km per game, but when you’re walking, you can miss chances to score.” The comments of scouts and former managers all paint a picture of a really good player, who is committed to becoming an even better one. In Firmino’s words: “My own dissatisfaction is my biggest motivation.” Dunga, meanwhile, believes “few see the goal like he can” and given it was near invisible for the Liverpool forwards last season, that will be a celebrated quality.
While no transfer is guaranteed to succeed, Firmino has already brought back the buzz and that is a victory of sorts in itself. It is often overlooked, but there’s plenty of worth in the ability to galvanise. Liverpool needed something, somewhere and Firmino is the right kind of it. Tell me you don’t feel a difference, and you’ll be lying.
It would not just have been the supporters, technical team and playing staff buoyed by a bold acquisition, I’d like to think Ian Ayre is feeling pretty damn smashing about it all too, as are the owners. That can be addictive and I hope they’re all in search of their next hit, because bravery and balls has to be the norm.
The same game face has to be worn when recruiting elsewhere, but most especially up front. Christian Benteke still seems to be a primary target, but Liverpool are unwilling to meet his release clause and Aston Villa refuse to soften their stance and lower their price. Carlos Bacca has also been linked along with Salomon Rondon, with the former seemingly the perfect blend of fuel and fire that is so admired by the Kop.
While the Firmino deal doesn’t put a band aid over past failures, and while it is far from the answer to all ills, it is a positive statement from Liverpool executed in an encouraging manner. The club have shown they can pitch well, close quickly and pay without asking so many questions that someone else comes in with the answer.
Minimal fuss but maximum fan appreciation, with belief and swagger back in stacks. The weapon of faith has been largely reloaded and the chamber needs to stay stocked.
Pics: PA Images
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