From Roberto To Bobby: Firmino’s Star Status Keeps On Rising At Liverpool

Mike Nevin Ident

“BOBBY Firmino” rang the now familiar chant from the Smethwick End at The Hawthorns last Sunday after another vital winning goal from the Brazilian.

I’ve got to be honest, I’m not that fussed with the “Bobby” moniker, not solely down to the fact I’m a miserable old sod but because I want my Brazilians to stay South American. Liverpudlians have always celebrated being a bit foreign, somewhat different; very much part of our unique identity as a football club.

I want Firmino to remain exotic and not be lumped in with the Englanders; Bobbies Charlton and Moore, the moustachioed Bobbies of the beat, and the Bluenose contingent —  the 1970s Bob Latchford, “Bobby” Martinez, and Poland’s Robert Warzycha, who became the Gwladys Street’s “Bob the Pole”.

If the point is to make an honorary Scouser of him; with his shorn sides and extravagant sweep of hair, the dazzling comedy gnashers and skinny inked-up torso, he couldn’t be further removed from your ordinary man on the street.

Of course, there’s a more serious point to this. If the decisive goal in the Black Country last week was very much a nod home in keeping with your average Bob who works in Fords, the evolving Firmino is beginning to indulge us in new levels of fantasy, while also remaining a captain of industry.

If for the previous week’s Stoke spectacular you could trade a sweat-soaked golden Brazil shirt for the black Liverpool away top and swap those grainy, embryonic colour TV pictures for today’s HD, you have a goal which would slot nicely into a Pele, Rivelino and Jairzinho showreel.

STOKE-ON-TRENT, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 8, 2017: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino celebrates scoring the second goal against Stoke City with team-mate Philippe Coutinho Correia during the FA Premier League match at the Bet365 Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Firmino probably got off on the wrong foot with Liverpool fans with his arrival from Hoffenheim for a cool £29million coinciding with the dying embers of the Brendan Rodgers reign. Despite the transfer bearing the hallmarks of a transfer committee signing, supporters were quick to write him off as another Rodgers blunder — to place alongside Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert — in the wake of the failed attempts to fill the huge hole left by Luis Suarez.

If we’re still coming to terms with the fact Firmino is actually a bona fide centre-forward, there were few signs in his tentative, early performances of the rumbustious player we’ve now taken to our hearts.

A rasping shot from distance which smacked against the crossbar in the fated 3-0 home defeat to West Ham was a small clue, but another lifeless showing — ostracised out on the right of a packed midfield — symptomatic of supine surrender at Old Trafford was enough to not only condemn Rodgers but also cast major doubts on the suitability of Firmino to the Premier League.

A back injury against Carlisle subjected Firmino to a month on the sidelines; enough time in his absence, albeit with the flimsiest of evidence, for supporters to label him a “lightweight” — the final extravagance of a doomed regime.

If seasoned Liverpool watchers were ready to give up on all but a few of the men bequeathed to Jürgen Klopp, thankfully the new manager arrived with fresh eyes and clean slate for a squad he insisted was brim full of quality.

Klopp has since gone on record to say he already recognised Firmino as one of the best players in the Bundesliga. “When I saw that Liverpool had signed him I thought, ‘How could Liverpool do this?’ — they were not in their best moment and other clubs would have spent more on him. What a good transfer for them.”

Firmino, perhaps reinvigorated by Klopp’s faith, slowly grafted his way back from injury and into first-team contention. Klopp’s maiden victory, against Bournemouth in the League Cup, was notable for an expressive, roving Firmino show, employed for the first time up front. When the Reds mauled Manchester City a month later there were primary signs of a telepathic attacking link with Phil Coutinho and a first Firmino goal in a Liverpool shirt in a signature 4-1 win which restored hope to Liverpool hearts.

Firmino’s influence though, throughout an inconsistent Klopp honeymoon, was sporadic. What was notable was a defensive work ethic unfamiliar with the South American stereotype in-keeping with Klopp’s pressing requirements but also an absence of real flair. While his compatriot Coutinho would decorate matches with moments of brilliance, for the time being Firmino’s natural gifts remained hidden.

Arsenal at home in January was the turning point when Firmino’s two goals; emphatic strikes from inside and outside the box respectively, came as a welcome surprise and lit up a rollicking 3-3 draw. A further brace at Norwich in another chaotic encounter hinted that Firmino could assume the role of a roaming goal getter. His tap in against Manchester United in the Europa League also re-illustrated a poacher’s instinct, suggesting a richer possible return in front of goal.

Firmino finished last season with 11 goals to his name; a respectable tally but no more than the expectation of a free-scoring midfielder. This season, without being the prolific marksman some would prefer, his contribution has to be measured beyond the six assists and 12 goals that now make him the Reds top scorer. If there is a frustration, it lies in the occasional indecisive finish. At both the Etihad and Old Trafford this season a cleaner strike and stronger sense of belief when in on goal might have secured all three points.

As the central presence in Klopp’s front three, Firmino is the wandering fulcrum of the attack; a constant menace and distraction creating alternative spaces for Coutinho and Sadio Mane. While his colleagues have both succumbed to damaging injuries, the robust Firmino has soldiered on and led the line throughout.

For recent comparison, he evokes the battling never-say-die spirit of Dirk Kuyt. But to compare them for quality is to damn Firmino — who owns a more composed touch and greater awareness and imagination — with the faintest praise.

Further back in the annals of Liverpool forwards, there is something of Kevin Keegan in Firmino — at home foraging from deeper positions, dropping into midfield to collect, but always intent on finding space. Keegan too embellished his game with extravagant tricks which are also the Firmino anomaly; amid the industry an outrageous turn and spin never too far away.

Keegan in turn drew comparisons with Luis Suarez for his constant buzz around the penalty area. Keegan, throughout his Liverpool career, averaged a goal every three games — a ratio in keeping with Firmino’s output thus far. For two-and-half Liverpool seasons, Suarez too was inconsistent in front of goal before blossoming into a predatory striker beyond compare for the Reds and Barcelona.

At the age of 26, with the prospect of a Champions League stage to further showcase his talents, it feels like Roberto Firmino is on the verge and capable of another step up.

Whether he came make the quantum leap to rival Suarez or Keegan in the pantheon of Liverpool greats is another matter, but I’d happily celebrate the elevation to superstar status of Brazilian Bob.

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  1. Robin Crimes

    Something my conspiracy theory mind can’t let go of is how did Liverpool come to sign Firmino.
    After the 6-1 at Stoke many were surprised to see Rodgers stay on. Klopp had left Dortmund and was clearly taking a break. Then the transfer committee produced a signing like this, which was completely out of character for them. Fast forward to the start of October and Klopp is the manager. A man who knew of Firmino’s talent and someone who would clearly be looking for a player like him. I feel talks with Klopp are unlikely to have started after the Everton game. If true, when did they start? I’ve long suspected we knew not long after Stoke that he was our next manager after his break. It is possible, I suppose, that an approach was made at the end of August after Lovren’s horror show v West Ham. In Klopp’s first interview on his announcement as our new manager he went to great lengths to point out he’d only known about Liverpool’s approach a few days earlier. I found that odd. It felt to me that he’d decided he was going to make that point before he’d even got in the room. It seemed out of context. Why did Firmino even come to us? 14/15 was a catastrophe of a season. What was the appeal? Rodgers? Lambert? Mario?
    Hi Jurgen, I know you’re on a break but do you fancy being our new manager, start Thursday? Bring your mates too. Yeah, sounds good. See you Thursday.
    But, maybe life is that simplistic.

    • Liverpool: “Jurgen come and manage us plz because you’re boss and we’ve gone shit again.”

      Klopp: “Holiday for a few months but I’ll take the job. Carry on as you were and I’ll see you October. Oh, one more thing, get Firmino or I’m not coming.”

      Liverpool: “k”

      In all seriousness though, I’m pretty sure there is credibility in what you say. The Firmino signing seemed somewhat arbitrary, especially considering Rodgers didn’t seem to know what he was, who he was, where he came from or where to play him.

    • How did Liverpool come to sign Luis Suarez? Or Fernando Torres? Or Xabi Alonso?

      Sometimes it just works out. oh, and Firmino agreed to join us in June 2015 – I doubt Klopp was on standby then.

      And the appeal? Money, profile, fellow Brazilians at the club?

      • Brendan recommended his dentist to Bob. Deal done

      • Robin Crimes

        I think it’s quite obvious how we came to sign Torres and Alonso which backs up my (light hearted) point. You may or may not remember but we had a Spanish manager at the time who knew quite a bit about Spanish league players. Torres said himself that was one of the main reasons he joined. Firmino would have be well aware of Klopp. Besides, Torres was joining a side that had been in 2 CL finals in the last 3 years. Suarez was joining a team that was in 3 CL semi finals in the last 5 years.

        Look, I’m off out, I don’t particularly want to dissect a random thought that popped into my head but when you say Firmino joined in June 15 and you doubt he was on standby then – my point was he may well have been. I feel Klopp is unlikely to have been first notified about Liverpool’s interest 12 weeks later, after Everton. I speculated above that I feel he may have contacted 8 weeks after Firmino joined around the time of the humiliation at home to West Ham. Or he could have first sounded out a few weeks before Firmino joined around the time of the Stoke match (the day Rodgers reign ended, despite us starting the next season with him). I wonder why he was backed in the summer despite Stoke and the whole previous season then sacked 8 weeks in. What changed in those first 8 weeks of the season. Maybe a chance call to Klopp who turned out to be interested, or maybe something more planned.

        Anyway, not really arsed one way or the other, later mate.
        P.s we had no appeal in June 2015. Better teams at the time would likely have paid that too. Just saying.

    • Sour_Kraut

      I’d say, FSG planned with Klopp for a long time. But Klopp wasn’t available – nor aware, I truly believe.

      • Robin Crimes

        Yeah, FSG certainly made the decision to look for a new manager after the end of the season. Liverpool don’t sack managers 8 weeks in. It suggests the decision was made in the summer but they had to wait for the right time. 100% speculation but I think Klopp told LFC in the summer he’s interested but needs a few months off. Otherwise a new manager would have been appointed in the summer. I don’t believe events ‘just happened’. I think it was all planned.

  2. An absolute diamond of a player. He has such composure on the ball in the final third, which in turn allows team-mates to get forward in support and stops us getting turned over in possession.

    He’s got this ghost-like presence. No lightening pace or overwhelming power, yet seems able to get in behind when needed and rarely outmuscled. A good example was him physically throwing Fletcher to the ground last Sunday and later getting past McCauley or one of the other alehousers to score with the header.

    Klopp raved about Firmino as soon as he arrived at the club and it’s clear why.

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