“THE ball, the ball, they hardly touched the ball; we beat the shite on a Wednesday night and and they hardly touched the ball.”
That chant, born on April 20, 2016 when The Reds hammered Everton 4-0, was true of most of the players in blue. But it was truest of all for Ramiro Funes Mori, who got exactly none of the ball when he stamped on Divock Origi’s ankle.
Funes Mori got the line for that tackle, but that was of little use to Origi. The Belgian, who had scored the opening goal in that game, suffered ligament damage which kept him out of the run in of the 2015-16 season.
In light of everything that has happened with The Reds since, it is easy to skirt over this tackle. In the wider scheme of things, it isn’t exactly a big deal.
But it could well prove to be a sliding doors moment in Origi’s Liverpool career. If Funes Mori doesn’t take his frustration out on Origi’s leg, Liverpool are not deprived of their best attacking player on the road to the Europa League final and Origi would have been free to continue on the impressive tear he had embarked on.
That headed derby goal was Origi’s 10th of the season, and the striker had scored in both legs of the Europa League tie with Borussia Dortmund.
More impressive than the goals, however, was the manner of Origi’s performance. He hassled and bullied defenders, standing centre halves up to burst past them, or dragging his marker into the channels as he chased impossible balls.
With his confidence at an all-time high, Origi looked properly unplayable. It seemed he could become anything.
Funes Mori robbed him of the end of that season, and robbed Liverpool of a terrifying attacking prospect for their run to the Europa League final.
Not unreasonably, given the form he was in before his injury, expectations were heightened around Origi last season. Could he kick on and establish himself as an important part of Jürgen Klopp’s plans?
Given the performances of Klopp’s first-choice 11 in the opening months of last season, Origi struggled to put a string of games together until November and December, when he scored four in four, winning and saving Liverpool precious points, keeping up the momentum of what we then thought could be a title challenge.
Something wasn’t right though. Even with those four goals in four games (and a further three league goals to follow), his performances left a lot to be desired. Whereas the front three of Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane had been vibrant, intelligent and tireless, Origi looked laboured, one paced and short of ideas.
Some Liverpool players have worked their socks off, played brilliantly and have not been able to score for love nor money. Peter Crouch’s wait for his first goal in red springs to mind. You were urging for one to go in off his arse, because then the pressure would evaporate.
Origi’s season was almost the inverse. He would be largely peripheral for an entire game and then pop up with a crucial goal. And every time he did, we’d hope it was the catalyst for an upturn in form. But it never came.
And then came the derby at Anfield. The fixture which had halted Origi’s momentum the previous season. The Belgian started on the bench and scored the game-clinching third goal with his first involvement on the pitch as a sub. You could have scarcely written a better script; Origi had come full circle, rubbing the Bluenoses in the dirt just over a year after they had to kick him off the pitch to stop him. And yet, very little changed for the rest of the season.
Origi now stands at a crossroads. Remarkably, he’s still only 22. Liverpool bought him in 2014 and he has played in red for two full seasons now; time is beginning to tick. Origi clearly has bags of talent, but I have written on these pages before about the double-edge sword of waiting on potential. Patience is most definitely a virtue but we cannot wait forever.
By January, Origi could find himself an important part of a squad fighting on a number of domestic and European fronts, or he could be on the unwanted list as far as most our concerned.
Pre season leads us to believe that Liverpool will start the season, broadly speaking and all else being equal, with a front three of Firmino, Mane and Mo Salah. This leaves Origi scrapping with Daniel Sturridge and Dominic Solanke for a spot in the three, loosely-defined attacking roles — though Coutinho, Adam Lallana and eventually Danny Ings will also come into consideration.
Lallana has proven himself a trusted lieutenant of the manager, and Sturridge’s worth to the team is clear (and skillset unmatched in the squad). While Solanke’s arrival was hardly the biggest splash of the summer, the initial signs have been promising and the striker’s reputation proceeded him into the club. Origi now has a fight on his hands to merely stand still, and must show at every opportunity he gets what particular tricks he can bring to Jürgen’s party.
Football is not a sentimental game; Origi has stuck around Liverpool with good reason. The nagging suspicion is that the drop off to his bad days is just too far for him to ever fully convince. But it is hard not to find yourself pulled back in by that swagger of 2015-16.
Potential is an important thing, but nothing hurts more than seeing it go unfulfilled. Origi has this season to make sure that doesn’t happen.
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