Michael Baddeley assesses Roberto Firmino’s debut season. He went from the flop of the season to the top in a matter of months.
The summer of 2015 started off with a bang for Liverpool fans around the world. On the 24 of June, a shock £29 million move for Hoffenheim’s, 24-year-old, highly-rated Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino was announced.
When Ian Ayre returned from Chile with confirmation of the deal, 99% of the club’s fans around the world jumped for joy. Finally, a signing where the fee didn’t seem to be massively inflated and one that got fans from rival clubs finding ridiculous reasons to suggest he would be a flop.
I, for one was excited to see the newbie in the famous Liverpool red gracing the Anfield turf. Excited to see him linking up with our very own magician Philippe Coutinho, scoring goals at the Kop end, being a key part of the clubs success and hopefully replacing the phenomenal former No.7 Luis Suarez.
Unfortunately, things didn’t start as expected for one of our big summer signings. It seemed Roberto was taking his time to settle down and that the step from the Bundesliga to the Premier League could have been a little too quick for the Reds new number eleven.
Despite at-the-time boss Brendan Rodgers insisting he wasn’t a direct replacement for out-going winger Raheem Sterling, he was often played one side of a front three. He looked out of place and seemed to lack the quality and strength needed to make it in the Premier League. The media were soon to pick up on the poor form and were quick to label him a “flop”.
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He wasn’t the only player not performing though. Poor performances resulted in Liverpool only winning three out of the first eleven games and hours after a disappointing 1-1 draw away to local rivals Everton, a game in which Roberto didn’t play, the man who bought the Brazilian to Merseyside parted ways with the club.
Step up Jürgen Klopp, a man who had faced Firmino on several occasions in previous years when managing Borussia Dortmund. A short time into his term at Liverpool, Klopp commented on the 24-year-old by telling the press:
“Usually he plays as an offensive midfielder, or second striker, or he can come from the wing. He’s a very skilled player”.
He then went on to to tell them:
“There was some time one year ago he was, for a few months, for sure the best player in Bundesliga”.
It was evident that the gaffer really rated Firmino.
He got his first start under the new German manager in the home game vs Bournemouth in the Capital One Cup and was by far the best player. His vision was brilliant, his ball skills were easy on the eye and played a major part in the goal that would eventually prove to be the winner for Liverpool.
He then lead the line and was deployed as a false nine, again showing more glimpses of quality in a dominant Liverpool performance as the reds marched to a 3-1 away win at Chelsea. But the best was yet to come from the Brazilian. He was again handed the false nine role a few weeks later, this time against Manchester City. His effect was devastating; after setting up two goals and netting one himself in the first half blitz of the Citizens, he had both opposition and Liverpool fans alike changing their opinion once again.
He was quickly becoming a fan favourite as well as a vital part of Klopp’s team. He was adapting well to the style that his manager wanted to play. The Brazilian was starting to terrorize his opponents with his skill on the ball, off the ball movement and his ability to press high and work hard for the cause of the team. The 24-year-old was definitely starting to live up to the fee paid by the club.
This was just the start for him, he pushed to even higher levels in the second half of the season, first it started with him winning the PFA Fans’ Player of the Month award for January after scoring four goals and assisting one in four games, thus provoking Arsenal and football legend Thierry Henry to tell Sky Sports: “Is he Suarez? At the moment he isn’t Suarez. But he might be in the future”. Surely a legend like Henry comparing you to arguably the best player in the world right now in Luis Suarez is a good sign, right?
The stats get better, these taken from Whoscored.com; he scored nine goals and provided five assists meaning he contributed to thirteen goals in the last fifteen Premier League games of the season. These include fantastic braces against Arsenal and Norwich. He also snatched the Man of the Match award four times, again a stat taken from Whoscored.com. Not too bad for a guy who was being labelled a flop by the media and rival club fans.
His first season at the club may have been a hit, but if he is too push on and become even better then he’s going to have to start leading by example.
The performance at Stamford Bridge was very workmanlike, he waved his wand and produced magic at the Etihad, ran the show against United at Anfield in the Europa League and well, Villarreal he had a major part to play in all three goals and sent Roberto Soladado back to Spain with a beautiful roulette turn.
However, the club took part in two finals this season and Firmino simply didn’t turn up in either of these. This is something that needs to be addressed if in the future he is going to be seen as Liverpool’s main man.
Featured Image – Rush the Kop