ROBERTO Firmino is at school. He’s learning that he gets to keep the man-of-the-match champagne after adding his fizz to a game. Learning that he has to pay closer attention to what he posts on social media. Learning about the unabating, unforgiving nature of English football and its schedule. Much like his new manager — the second in his short time at Liverpool — he’s learning just how different everything is here.
Jürgen Klopp often references fantasy because when it comes to football too often the expectation of what we want to happen outweighs the reality of situations.
The excitement over Firmino’s surprise signing had many thinking that the Brazilian would swagger in and make Premier League defences look silly from the onset. There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with wanting big-money recruits to bring the roof down from the very beginning.
There is, although, absolutely everything wrong with writing them off simply because they haven’t yet done the extraordinary things you hoped they would.
This can be extended to the manager himself.
Any references to Klopp being a ‘fraud’ (honestly?), ‘found out’ (seriously?) or any such variant (bitch, please!) because Liverpool cannot replicate their performance at the Etihad every week is beyond daft.
When the 48-year-old took the job, Klopp knew “maybe this is the biggest challenge in this moment in world football, but I was never a guy for the easy way”.
He also immediately said: “We have to talk with all LFC fans, talk about what are expectations. Because expectations can be a real big problem, it’s like a backpack of 20 kilos, it’s not so cool to run with this! We have to talk about this, we have to think about this.”
We know Klopp has not had the benefit of a pre-season with the team, but it often gets forgotten that neither has Firmino.
The 24-year-old was given extended leave due to his Copa America involvement in the summer, and when he did finally link up with Liverpool, he joined a side so unsure of itself.
Brendan Rodgers opted for a risk-averse start to the season given the nightmarish way 2014-15 ended. It was the safe option, but one that didn’t suit the bulk of the squad.
Firmino was eased into things, playing just 12 and 20 minutes of the first two games of the campaign.
He started against Arsenal, where Liverpool looked to be the more dangerous version of themselves and in his 63 minutes, ‘Bobby F’ completed four out of five attempted dribbles, made three tackles and as many key passes. He was also denied an assist as Petr Cech saved Christian Benteke’s effort off his low cross. He looked the dog’s bollocks.
Then came the consecutive hammerings dished out by Manchester United and West Ham. Firmino looked like the dog’s steaming turd. As did his team-mates. And the manager at the time.
He picked up a back injury against Carlisle — and then saw the back of Rodgers, with the familiar face of Klopp coming in.
Under the German, we’ve seen the full-throttle football Firmino and Liverpool as a whole are capable of.
We’ve also seen plenty of flaws from the player and the collective. An attacker adapting. A team adapting. A manager adapting…
Earlier this season, Divock Origi apparently wasn’t good enough for the Red shirt. Neither was Jordon Ibe. Philippe Coutinho was massively overrated. If you blinked and missed it, he’s been put back in that box.
Joe Allen couldn’t pass gas. Adam Lallana does absolutely nothing (except really important off-the-ball work that seems to help Liverpool win games), ya know. Christian Benteke is beyond awful (despite being a proven goalscorer who is simply doing what he always has in a team not suited to it).
Dejan Lovren was supposedly the worst thing ever. James Milner was ranked about the third worst.
Adam Bogdan deserved to start in the Premier League until he did of course and dropped it like it’s hot. Real, real hot. Firmino is a waste of [insert your time/money/or both preference here].
It’s hard to keep up with who is boss or who is bullshit at any given time. It’s hard to know which of go-to-town or go-home Liverpool will turn up to any game.
The uncertainties are endless, which is normal for an incredibly young team in transition. A team who can currently field a ridiculously strong starting 11 of injured players.
Among all the unknowns, there are the facts: despite being up, down and playing all around, Firmino has five assists and one goal for Liverpool.
Can he do better? Absafuckinglutely. The entire side can. His attributes, as Klopp has referenced, are perfect for fighting football. Perfect for the Premier League. Perfect for the club.
This is the first time in his career that he is dealing with scrutiny on a global scale, as well the kind of expectation that delivers a punch between the eyes on a daily basis.
The forward moved from the Brazilian second division to Hoffenheim, a tiny town south of Frankfurt with a population of only around 3,000, to a development club of sorts.
62 – Since his debut in Feb 2011, R Firmino has been involved in more goals (62) than any other Brazilian in the top five leagues. Settled.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 24, 2015
He was allowed to quietly settle and grow away from the kind of glare present at a European giant in a gigantic city.
From that to Liverpool. Where the attention extends beyond Merseyside to Malaysia, Madagascar and every corner of the earth that consumes English football.
As Klopp explained: “Firmino is a complete offensive player. He can play each position. It took him time to move from Hoffenheim — a small development club in Germany — to play at Liverpool. It was a big difference and Firmino needed to adapt to his new situation, this new pressure.
“I know him very well from Germany so he does not have to show something special to me because I know everything about him and his qualities.”
Firmino is still at school. And Klopp thinks he’ll be top of his class. In the meantime, put down that 20-kilo backpack, like.