THERE are raw materials, and there is end product, writes JAMES OWENS.
None who saw Divock Origi’s displays in the 2014 World Cup could fail to have noticed a decent quantity of the former. Few within these shores had heard of Origi before his substitute appearance in Belgium’s opener, a 2-1 win over Algeria, but between that outing and their eventual quarter-final exit at the hands of Argentina, the then 19 year-old forced his way into the side, showing a blend of athleticism and grace at times reminiscent of a young Thierry Henry.
Most important, of course, was his late winner against Russia in Belgium’s second group fixture. Ironically, it’s a squad Origi may not have made but for the serious injury that kept his future Liverpool team-mate Christian Benteke out of the party, but the youngster would finalise an eventual £10million move to Anfield shortly after the tournament.
Watching Origi in the red of Liverpool up until Wednesday evening, you got the impression that the season-long loan back to previous club Lille had done him few favours.
It had included a five-month goal drought during which he was once booed by his own fans after missing a penalty, and ended with a place in L’Equipe’s worst XI of the Ligue 1 season as Lille finished a disappointing eighth.
So it was hardly a surprise that the young forward arrived on Merseyside looking short of confidence.
It’s a truism to say that playing as a lone striker is one of the hardest jobs on a football pitch, but by the last of Origi’s consecutive starts in Jürgen Klopp’s first four games in charge of the Reds, it was painfully clear that he was ill-equipped to perform the role of lone frontman.
Occupying two centre-backs, bringing midfielders into play, knowing when and where to run to keep a four-man defence on its toes, and making the most of whatever openings come your way is a big ask for most strikers at Origi’s age.
For every Robbie Fowler or Michael Owen who is a ready-made sensation at 17 or 18, there are many more who don’t truly come into their own until they enter their 20s.
Even Raheem Sterling — he of the £49 million summer exit — offered little more than dribbling ability and work rate in his first season and-a-half as a Liverpool regular, and was already being written off in some quarters by the time he started regularly scoring and creating goals.
In Origi’s defence, the former duo almost always operated as part of a two-man attack, while Sterling came into his own playing directly behind the best pair in the league in Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge.
And playing alongside Sturridge at St. Mary’s on Wednesday, Origi looked like a different proposition even before going on to bag a perfect hat-trick.
Relieved of the responsibility of being Liverpool’s focal point, and with the most menacing of foils alongside him, all those raw materials – the touch, the athleticism, and the instinctive finishing ability – were brought to bear.
Origi may have scored Liverpool’s third in name only, but his all-round performance up to that point can only have given him confidence, and that alone probably goes a long way to explaining his decision to hit the ball first-time with such emphatic force to score Liverpool’s fourth mid-way through the second-half.
Self-belief can be the difference between ruthless one-touch finishing and hiding from the ball for any striker, and Origi’s development may best be served by Klopp continuing to pair him with another forward when picked.
He’ll be more comfortable in his own skin and a better player for it by the time Liverpool next need him to lead the line on his own, and paradoxically, that confidence will probably outweigh the demands of having to play without an attacking partner.
As scintillating as the strikerless displays at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium were, Roberto Firmino or Adam Lallana as a false nine isn’t always going to be the solution, and, with Danny Ings out for the season, Sturridge’s ongoing battle for sustained fitness, and with Benteke having already suffered three injuries since joining, Liverpool are likely to have to rely on Origi at some point.
The more more he believes in himself when that time comes, the better.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo/PA Images