THERE is always a then and now.
Regardless of the ever-changing landscape of the game, that juxtaposition is one of football’s constants. Even the profession of covering the sport has its sepia-tinted throwback and high-definition reality.
Journalists reporting on a patch 30 years ago would have ridiculed the thought of sharing the story of a match through snaps on a mobile phone app.
What of seeing every line of their articles reproduced on a global social platform by users that reduced the effort of sourcing information by merely referencing their name in brackets? Stop having them off, will yer!
Then, Vine was nothing more than the plant on which grapes grow.
Conversely, those on the patch today wouldn’t dare turn up to Melwood, pull up a seat at the side of the training pitch, and walk onto it at the end of the session to interview players as was the norm back in the Good Ol’ Days™.
Spending post-match hours soaking away the night in a pub with the squad sounds about as far-fetched as some kid in tighty whities having the inside track on Liverpool transfers from the sources (socks, skiddies) in his bedroom.
Despite hugely differing experiences, journalists from both eras cite access as a most crucial element of the job. The game may be reaching more households globally, but clubs are becoming increasingly walled off as they water their own media channels.
Access offers greater insight, greater understanding, and importantly, the ability to greater inform.
Divock Origi, in his debut season at Liverpool, which has also been split into then and now, is one of the players it is quite easy to paint an accurate portrait of as he has been quite open.
The 20-year-old Belgian did not play hide-and-seek when he was stumbling over his own feet at the start of the campaign, and has remained accessible during a period in which he has emerged as a genuinely frightening prospect.
Much has changed for the Belgian, but his message has never altered: he is still learning, and has plenty of it to do. When he was faltering, it was easy for fans to forget this, and now that he is flying, it is equally simple to ignore this fact.
Origi was never ‘shite’ despite being named in L’Equipe’s worst team of the season when he returned to Lille for a season on loan after signing for Liverpool.
— FFW (@FrenchFtWeekly) May 25, 2015
He was just a kid in a more competitive league, in a new country after a very difficult final season in France, brought in to further develop at Liverpool.
The club identified that his raw talent could be turned into a terrifying tool against defences and were aware he would need time to settle and to undergo an ‘education’ of sorts. If anything, it was the expectation around him that was ‘shite.’
Representing Belgium at the last World Cup didn’t mean Origi was on the brink of greatness and neither did it negate his age.
His relentless performance at the Westfalenstadion against Borussia Dortmund last week doesn’t mean he is on the brink of greatness and neither does it negate his age. He is still learning, and has plenty of it to do.
Origi has obviously markedly improved with his development expedited under Jürgen Klopp. The manager, famed for extracting the very best out of young talent, sat him down at the end of November and advised the striker to simplify his game.
The German had known all about Origi’s qualities long before taking charge at Liverpool, as Borussia Dortmund were keen to recruit him as a teenager, but couldn’t afford the £10million transfer fee. During their chat, Klopp reminded the former Lille ace of what made him special and why he should trust his ability rather than succumb to the expectation around him.
Origi’s first contribution after that conversation? The hat-trick in Liverpool’s 6-1 League Cup scorching of Southampton.
He explained to Goal: “He told me that I need to keep things simple. “To stop overdoing everything. As a young player, you want to go in and show what you can do and put yourself about. You put extra pressure on yourself, then you don’t end up enjoying the game and you make decisions that you shouldn’t — that you wouldn’t make normally.
“When you come into a game and you only get five or 10 minutes you want to show that you can make a difference. You focus on that and not what you have to do in terms of the game. So we talked about things like that, about not over-thinking and just doing the basics because that would help the most.
“The main thing is he didn’t give me too much information, I understood everything he was telling me, and how he thought we could work on it. He said that a young player coming into such a big club is not easy, but I deserve it and I belong here.
“He said just a few small changes, lots of hard work from me and everything would click. When I took to the pitch against Southampton, I thought of all this.”
Origi had already undertaken extra training sessions before the discussion with Klopp, but used his advice to tailor what areas he targeted. “Movement, positioning, anticipation” were the three key elements he centred around, as he realised he was erroneously playing with his back to goal too often.
The attacker would stimulate game situations and “learn what works and what doesn’t” before repeating the successful findings daily.
“It helps to do the same things over and over again because it lifts your confidence and also becomes automatic,” he explained.
Apart from putting in the effort on Melwood’s pitches, he has worked with the fitness team in the complex’s expansive gym area to elevate his upper body strength after experiencing the physicality of the league.
He has not just packed on muscle, but has solidified his core and sharpened his balance.
Whatever department has required improvement, Origi has been at it. When he is not working, he is watching the other strikers and noting what he could add to become more explosive.
His first performance under Klopp and his last under the manager is testament to his progress. At White Hart Lane in October, with Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke sidelined, Origi was thrust into the starting line-up.
He was tireless in the goalless draw with Tottenham, but was not a genuine threat.
In Dortmund last week, he was selected over a fit Sturridge and Firmino, was still relentless, but was a constant menace to the hosts’ backline.
He is undoubtedly quicker in mind, stronger, and has been unburdened. He is no longer trying to prove how good he is, he is only focused on getting better.
Origi has highlighted another important factor behind his fine form: the backing from supporters. His name had been chanted home and away at the turn of the year, and he even received some tongue from a travelling fan in the 6-0 massacre of Aston Villa on Valentine’s Day.
At the Westfalenstadion, there were shouts of ‘DIVOCK ORIGI’ following his opener as scarves swirled and the swatch of the night sky turned red.
“You can feel the support and it gives me a boost,” he said afterwards, his goal ensuring a 1-1 draw and giving Liverpool an edge heading into the reverse leg at Anfield.
“It does make a difference to experience that.”
With Origi, it’s not the then and now that’s most interesting, but what’s coming next.