Roberto Firmino Barbosa de Oliveira was born on 2 October 1991, in Maceió, the capital city of the state of Alagoas in Brazil. Firmino was named according to Portuguese naming customs and Barbosa is his maternal family name, while de Oliviera is his paternal family name. It’s no easy task to stand out among the crowds of talented young Brazilian football players, but Roberto Firmino had done exactly that long before his journey ultimately led him to signing for Liverpool during the 2015 summer transfer window.
Firmino’s football career, before Liverpool
Firmino’s football story started in 2004 when he joined the youth system of second tier Brazilian football club, Club De Regatas Brasil (also known as CRB) in his hometown of Maceio, where he played until 2008. Thanks to a failed trial in Sao Paolo, Firmino was discovered by Dr Marcellus Portella (who was his dentist and subsequently became his agent) at 16, and moved to Figueirense FC which is based in Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, leaving his parents and his sister behind. Initially he joined the club’s youth system and thereafter became a senior player as part of Figueirense’s Série B championship side, making his professional debut on 24 October 2009 as a half-time substitute in an away game loss to Ponte Preta. Firmino’s first professional goal gave his side the win against São Caetano on 8 May 2010 and he followed this up with a further seven goals in his 36 appearances during the 2009-10 season contributing to Figueirense’s return to Série A after a two-year absence.
On 1 January 2011, Firmino signed for German side, Hoffenheim where his talent was honed, as he developed into one of the most dangerous attacking players in the Bundesliga. Firmino made his Hoffenheim debut a month after signing with the club and scored his first goal on 16 April 2011 and scored two more goals in his first season. The next season (2012-13) he scored seven goals in his 36 appearances for the club. Over the following two seasons (2013-14 and 2014-15) Firmino went on to have the second-best assist return (21) in the Bundesliga just behind Kevin De Bruyne (26).
What made this achievement even more remarkable was the fact that he managed to do that whilst playing for a team that had finished in eighth place in the Bundesliga. To put that into context, Firmino had setup more goals than any Bayern Munich player despite the fact that Bayern had scored 53 more goals than Hoffenheim over the two seasons.
Firmino made 153 appearances for TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and scored 49 goals with 36 assists. Hoffenheim agreed terms for Firmino to join Liverpool on 23 June 2015, while he was playing for Brazil at the Copa América. Liverpool confirmed the signing the following day, subject to a medical and the deal was finalized on 4 July 2015.
With so many talented Brazilian forward and midfield players, Firmino has had a tough time getting into the national side on a regular basis. Then new coach, Dunga, gave Firmino his international debut in 2014 after the World Cup finals. Firmino has made 16 appearances for Brazil and scored five goals.
Firmino’s positional versatility and style of play
Firmino is one of Liverpool’s most versatile attacking players and has played as an attacking midfielder, secondary striker, right winger, left winger and centre-forward during most of his football career; yet, he started out as right back and also played as a central defender in his youth. He is the type of player who can create something out of nothing, and utilizes his speed, vision, close control and dribbling skills wherever he is needed. Firmino’s off the ball movement is also not typical for a forward player – he picks holes in opposition’s defence, finds space with apparent ease and stops counter-attacks.
Last season, Firmino completed more tackles than Chelsea’s Gary Cahill with 58, and was the third highest in Liverpool’s squad for distances covered, with James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne above him having played more matches.
In the 2013-14 season, Firmino was named the Bundesliga Breakthrough Player of the Season.
Liverpool’s most important player
Firmino’s playing style is perfectly suited to Gengenpressing and Jürgen Klopp sees Firmino as the “engine” that propels the team’s relentless, counter-attacking system.
Klopp has said:
People say he does not score enough. What?! He is the best player without scoring, with how well he reads the game for the benefit of others. If he loses the ball, he fights for it back. If he loses it again, he fights for it. He looks like the engine of the team.
Stay tuned for The Player Behind the Name: Roberto Firmino, Part Two, in the coming week.
Up the Reds!