Roberto Firmino has been at Liverpool for eight great years, and while it will be heart-breaking to see him go, we can at least spend his last few months in a red shirt giving him the roses he richly deserves.
His impact and legacy is hard to capture with any clarity, but I’ll try to do the Brazilian justice. Here’s eight ways to think about — and take joy in — Roberto Firmino: one for every season as a Red.
I. The Silverware
He was a player I thought was one of the best in the Bundesliga. When I saw that Liverpool had signed him I thought ‘How could Liverpool do this?’ They were not in their 100% best moment and other clubs would have spent more on him. So I thought immediately ‘What a good transfer for them’. I felt pretty sure clubs would have paid a lot more for him. From his first day [at 1899 Hoffenheim], everybody could see he would be a very, very good player, and when Liverpool took him I thought they had made a good choice.
Firmino was a Brendan Rodgers signing, albeit one the Northern Irishman went along with rather than desired (Firmino was a darling of the scouting staff, while Rodgers was after Christian Benteke; Rodgers compromised, signing Michael Edwards’ target Firmino in order to get Benteke). Rodgers wasn’t keen on Firmino, and thus we didn’t see the real Bobby until Klopp came in midway through the 2015/16 campaign. By the end of his debut season, he had 11 goals and 11 assists in 49 total appearances and was the most-used player under Klopp.
Firmino arrived having signed for an entirely different Liverpool than the one he will be leaving (as a certified Liverpool legend). That he was pre-Klopp is certainly widely mentioned, but what we often fail to consider is what that means — something Klopp noted above: Firmino did not join a club on the rise, a club with one of the most sought-after managers in the contemporary game looking to continue adding to its trophy cabinet from a place of strength. Instead, Firmino joined a sleeping giant, convinced he could have a hand in bringing it back to life.
He was right to back himself. While at Liverpool, Roberto Firmino won every top-level trophy available to win. The Champions Wall looks quite a bit different now than it did when he arrived.
Though Firmino had a hand in all of Liverpool’s major successes over his tenure, the trophy that most characterizes the Brazilian has to be the FIFA Club World Cup.
The competition itself has a lot of meaning in South America, and Firmino’s willingness to bring the trophy home on his own effort alone was abundantly clear.
It was his goal, of course, that sealed Liverpool’s first ever Club World Cup, but he also scored the goal that carried Liverpool into the final. The Reds were...not great in Doha. Against Monterrey, Liverpool struggled, in part due to personnel issues (captain Jordan Henderson played centerback next to Joe Gomez, for example, in a bit of necessary shuffling that would become all too familiar in the 2020/21 season).
The game was level at 1-1 going into stoppage time. Bobby Firmino had been introduced to the action late. He scored a neat finish in the 91st minute, carrying an unconvincing Liverpool into the final. There, he would do it again — with a bit more drama.
In the final, Firmino could have scored in the opening minute against Flamengo, and came close again early in the second half. Rather than a simple win, though, the game went into extra time scoreless, setting the stage for late Bobby drama. The Brazilian used his body to send the entire Flamengo defense the wrong way, and casually won the final for Liverpool, a calm, slotted finish belying the tense atmosphere of the match itself.
This goal is certainly one that helps to define Firmino’s time at Liverpool, and, indeed, his career. I’ll give him the trophy, too, as a centerpiece of his legacy as a Red: it would not be in Anfield without his individual brilliance and sheer force of will.
II. The Making of “The Bobby Firmino False 9”
In his book Allez Allez Allez, written to commemorate Liverpool’s sixth European Cup in 2019, Simon Hughes spent time giving us background on Liverpool’s players and staff. Such an approach is appropriate, because Klopp’s Liverpool squad cannot be understood simply as who they are as players — centrally, it’s about who they are as people.
Firmino is from Maceió, Brazil, which is located on the coast of the country in the State of Alagoas, where it feels like summer year-round. His father was a street-hawker, and Firmino says he probably would have followed in his footsteps if his skillset at football hadn’t taken him far from home. As a young boy who told Hughes that he “took the ball to bed” sometimes, he was signed to local Club de Regatas Brasil (CRB) on day two of trials. At that age, he played everywhere, but he actually started out in his career as a central defender.
As he grew, he took a chance on a one-year deal at far away Figueirense, which became a longer stay as he eventually earned the the young player of the year award as his side was promoted to Brazil’s Série A just over two years after Firmino joined them. At this stage, he was shy and dedicated: a characteristic story Hughes relates is that he didn’t correct his coach, who called him “Alberto” for two weeks before a teammate finally corrected him on Firmino’s behalf.
Though Firmino initially played far further back than we’d expect in his youth days, there was always a glimmer of an attacker in there. Speaking to Eight by Eight in 2019, Firmino recalled his early efforts at CRB and then Figureirense:
I was a midfielder, though for a while I even played as a central defender. But whenever I got the ball, I would start to dribble and to nutmeg people and join in the attack. So every year I evolved a little bit forward up the pitch. Once I got to the under-17s [at Figueirense], I became a No. 10.
1899 Hoffenheim saw Firmino’s promise, signing him before the player even had a go in the first division of Brazilian football. By this time Firmino was accustomed to being far from his family, but moving quite young to a small German town was a much more daunting leap. He was quiet, but still determined, and eventually became the Breakthrough Player in the 2013/14 season — as Liverpool almost, almost won the Premier League in England before falling off a cliff.
Though Firmino had potential, not much of his previous football suggested what he would become under Klopp. In his first few months in England, he was playing on the right wing after arriving from Hoffenheim as a No. 10, though he had been moving into a more directly attacking position at the end of his time in Germany. He still had to adapt in England, but did so quickly. Klopp’s managerial style of motivating players (helping them gain confidence) while asking for hard tactical work (and a lot of running) was perfect for a player like Firmino.
Throughout his career, the Brazilian had shown himself comfortable with hard work: in his book Hughes relates how at 17 he chose to stay behind and train alone on a two week holiday rather than return home to his family like the other players did. Some players mature and change over the course of their careers; Firmino simply doubled down.
His early stats at Liverpool reflected this dedication to work. While his goal contributions were certainly key, much was (appropriately) made about things like the fact that in the 2017/18 season only six players made more tackles in the Premier League than Firmino, and all six players were defenders. With Firmino’s departure, we see another player key whose qualities shaped character of Klopp’s Liverpool side take his bow (Sadio Mané’s controlled chaos and Gini Wijnaldum’s inhuman ability to turn Liverpool’s midfield into a black hole no opposition pass could penetrate are key earlier examples).
While it’s horrible to see Firmino leave Liverpool, it’s wonderful to be able to make sure he knows how much he means to us before he goes. We have warning that he’s off. Too often we don’t give players their roses until after they’ve retired, but we now have the chance to make his every appearance a Bobby Firmino Thank You tour. It’s even better that the song is so good.
We all celebrated him coming on and scoring the seventh (7!!!!!!! There were seven) against Manchester United on Sunday with the energy of a fanbase intending to do just that. Three more months of that, please.
III. Bobby in a Single Moment
The thing about football is that it isn’t just something we take in and enjoy in isolation. Moments in football matches act as memory markers, and help us organize the events in our lives. Big wins can help us cope with losses in our personal lives; the nights out after tough defeats can lead to new friendships and memories that last through years. Goals and games and moments are often embedded in our minds alongside what goes on elsewhere. You could tell time through footballing moments, if you wanted to, and Firmino has given us some real moments.
For many, Firmino’s second goal against Arsenal at Anfield just before New Year’s in 2018 is the Bobby Firmino goal. (He scored three in that game, of course, and I could easily talk about his no-look first goal as very Bobby, but you know which one I mean.)
You’d be forgiven for forgetting, but Liverpool actually conceded first in that match. Despite the fact that Arsenal was run so ragged by the Reds within the first 10 minutes that the Arsenal defenders were loudly arguing amongst themselves, Ashley Maitland-Niles managed to get the ball in the back of the Liverpool net completely against the run of play at 11’. It was a brief shock, but no one in the ground — players or fans — thought it would stop the inevitable Liverpool win that was playing out in front of us. We were right to have the noise levels back up before the ball was out of the net.
Though Liverpool had been on top before and after the opening goal in terms of pressure, it took some magic from Firmino to have the dominance reflected on the scoreboard. And what magic it was.
Arsenal were in their lovely bright mint kits, which looked spectacular splayed across the Anfield pitch as Firmino’s skill sent three of them — and finally Bernd Leno — to ground. Firmino peeled away with a shake of his hand as if to say he’d burned it on a run that was just too hot. If there hadn’t been so many spectators looking on, Arsenal might have packed up and gone home then.
WHAT. A. RUN.— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 1, 2019
Bobby's stunning second Arsenal... from every angle. pic.twitter.com/u8c30wm0I7
It was a special game for me. It was one of the major markers in my own life, outside of football. You see, we were exhausted after that match, but you can’t simply go home after you flatten Arsenal 5-1 in the amorphous festive period between Christmas and New Year’s. So we went to Motel. At Motel I met a man who, though I didn’t realize it at the time, would propose to me three years later. He was stood on a table pouring Jägermeister into the mouths of singing and celebrating Reds. As one does.
What a night we all had. What is football for if not to give us great days and nights with mates, old and new? To let us remember those loved ones we’ve lost — but who also loved the Reds with us?
IV. “Yellow Card for Excessive Celebration”
I cannot cope with the idea that we won’t see any more Bobby Firmino celebrations after this season. No one else comes close. The best to ever do it.
Per Michael Reid of Opta, no player has received more yellow cards for excessive celebration than Bobby Firmino (5), at least since such records started being recorded in the 2006/07 Premier League season.
Here are some highlights:
Absolutely any one of his karate kicks, but especially the ones that are celebrating goals that someone else scored (and usually almost injure them). Here he is getting Sadio Mané to have a go:
Arguably the most iconic is his one-eyed celebration against PSG.
Sadio Mané, too, doubled down on it:
Some celebrations aren’t from iconic goals, but leave an impression — the tiny “bun” and some shirtless dancing? Very Bobby. Where are the finger guns?
Anything with wild leaps is emphatically Bobby, and he always helpfully reminded us to celebrate all goals with a level of remarkable exuberance:
Why knee slide when you can somersault? (Special shout-out, too, to the somersault back onto the pitch to celebrate the big cup.)
If you have a bit more time, you might watch his first 100 goals for Liverpool as well; plenty of celebration content in there for you.
If you have between three and 20 minutes, there are some brilliant (and I’m sure fully legal) compilation videos of Firmino celebrations on YouTube. Give it a go. I showed one to my mother once; she was mystified.
Of course, Firmino’s best celebrations weren’t actually on a pitch following a goal. The man was made for a party, and it’s good he and his mates know it:
There's something that the Kop wants you to know... pic.twitter.com/ComOtsjjYR— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 15, 2022
V. The Stats of a Liverpool Legend
Thus far in his career Bobby Firmino has played in 354 matches for Liverpool FC. In only two of his seasons at the club has he featured in less than 40 matches (one being the present season), speaking to both the level of the club in recent years and the centrality of Firmino to its success.
He has scored more than Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres, Terry McDermott, Steve Heighway, Ronnie Whelan, Steve McManaman, and countless others — a tally somewhat surprising for a player who is certainly more than just goals. He’s now 17th overall, and one of only eighteen Liverpool players who have scored above 100 goals. (He sits just above John Barnes after Manchester United, ahead on ratio alone.)
At present, he is seventh overall for assists in LFC history, with 72 total. If you want to know what that list looks like, it’s good reading as well (from lfchistory.net):
What’s your favorite Firmino assist? There’s plenty to choose from.
There’s a lot to be said, too, about “simple” Firmino flourishes that allow teammates to shine. Have a go at this for Mohamed Salah:
The birthday boy— Liverpool FC (@LFC) October 2, 2019
What's been your favourite Firmino moment for the Reds so far? pic.twitter.com/sQS83FSt4d
He has captained Liverpool exactly once, in the 2-1 win against West Bromwich Albion in May 2021. He has received countless standing ovations. He has one of the best individual player songs since Torres.
He has never shied away from scoring big goals, with his first for Liverpool coming against Manchester City — a game that finished 4-1, with Firmino decisively involved in the first three. His first hat trick for Liverpool was in that game against Arsenal from section three.
He’s scored the most against Arsenal (9), but Watford have been victimized too (8), and have seen him do some of his best flair work — they were the opponents for his only other hat trick (in 2021). His most memorable against Watford is probably the no-look flick in 2018 from Mohamed Salah’s assist, and what a goal that was:
He also loves a late goal, which we know from his antics at the Club World Cup. The stats bear this out as well, though: of his 108 total goals for Liverpool, 68 have come in the second half of matches or in extra time, with his most fruitful period between the 61st and 75th minute (26 goals).
Though he only has three stoppage time goals, one of those was the extremely memorable one in stoppage time against Paris Saint-Germain in the 2018/19 Champions League season — which Liverpool later won. Though an eye injury picked up against Tottenham could have ruled him out, all it did was give us one of his more iconic celebrations (and certainly subdued the PSG traveling support).
I love many, many things about Roberto Firmino but that time he made all those scruffy Parisian losers quietly put their T-shirts back on, and pack away their banners with The Joker on in the 93rd minute at Anfield, is something I will remember forever.— Dan Sandison (@DanMUNDIAL) March 3, 2023
VI. Firmino as Footballing Revelry
There are many, many different kinds of players. Plenty of different ways a personality can inflect a style of play, plenty of means to leave a mark on a game.
You could make the argument that Roberto Firmino is an example of the best type of player to watch and to play alongside. Jürgen Klopp has referred to Firmino as the “engine” of his Liverpool team, and his importance to the squad and Klopp’s tactics has been inarguable over his eight years on Merseyside.
What’s special about Firmino, though, goes beyond stats lines. His work rate is central to his identity as a player, but so is the pure joy he brings to the pitch. There’s a reason he’s consistently in the top 10 names on shirts sold, despite the fact that he doesn’t score the most, isn’t a new signing, and isn’t a local lad or the captain of his international side (his didn’t even select him for the last World Cup).
Firmino inspires us because he dazzles. When he plays, you can recognize the unadulterated fun that drew us to the game in our youths, and the delight in spectacle that seems made for the gifs and highlight compilations of the modern era. Firmino is no slouch when it comes to actual production, but for every goal, assist, and pre-assist he provides there are 20 moments that deserve to end in a goal, or that deserve to be remembered. Moments of perfection with a football, of cleverness, of the type of deft touch that makes you wonder how he even thought to move that way on the ball (let alone how he was able to).
It would be remiss to not mention what he did to Roberto Soldado (Roberto on Roberto crime):
Firmino sending Soldado for The Echo pic.twitter.com/guW33795da— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) September 10, 2020
And of course the Dani Celballos moment that plays non-stop in our heads:
Baller Firmino ended Ceballos' loan spell at Arsenal with this flick pic.twitter.com/YLQy1NQGuh— Sa’eed (@mosaeed_LFC) August 26, 2019
Remember when he managed that backheel nutmeg from the actual floor? My word.
How about this from Liverpool star Roberto Firmino overnight...— Fox Football (@FOXFOOTBALL) October 28, 2018
That's a no-look backheel nutmeg pic.twitter.com/hZMEkQtCKj
And of course the absolute filth that should have been an assist against Genk, but which did at least make the Champions League intro for the next season:
Roberto Firmino plays football like it’s all a big laugh, really.
Growing up his idol was Ronaldinho — something he shares with plenty of Brazilians around his age, surely. The influence of the idol of his youth is partially evident in how he plays: his game, his style of play, and the joy he brings to every moment with the ball honors a specific style of play that is very Brazilian — though you wouldn’t necessarily say he reminds you of his Ronaldinho.
Firmino’s style of play is unique to himself. He has bags and bags of flair, but he’s never self-indulgent. His flair always comes with intent. He uses exquisite beauty on the ball and playful flourishes, but with a clear end in mind. His work rate in transition and in defense suggests that he doesn’t just chase glamour and glory, but welcomes the toil necessary for the success of the collective.
His early experiences might have influenced this. “I played a lot on the beach,” he told Eight by Eight back in 2019. “Obviously on grass pitches as well, when we could, or anywhere else to get a game in, but at least three times a week it would be on the beach with my friends. Playing there does influence the way you see the game. Of course, when you’re on the beach, there is no pressure, so we have more fun. We’re playing to have fun.”
Firmino never left behind that ethos, even when playing at the pinnacle of the world stage: he still plays for fun, and he’s kept that initial philosophy even as he developed further in Germany and at Liverpool. Rather than overwriting his youthful sense of play, he added to it with his development.
“I think the Germans have a working mentality. They start with the idea that they need to run and work a lot. The Brazilian mentality is more about creativity and skills,” he continued. “I think if you blend these two, if you combine these two sets of characteristics, you get an outstanding player. That’s where I want to get. That’s me.”
Is it ever.
There’s no one else like him. When we sing about how we see things they’ll never see, we’re also talking about the likes of Roberto Firmino, not just the silverware he’s brought home, or the stages we’ve seen him play on. He is so uniquely ours.
VII. In the Words of Others
It’s safe to say that Roberto Firmino has the respect of those around him.
Speaking ahead of this season, Jürgen Klopp — who didn’t then know the season would be Firmino’s swan song — underscored his No. 9’s centrality to the team:
Bobby is crucial for us. Bobby is [the] heart and soul of this team. The way we played in the last few years was only possible because of Bobby.
After dismantling Manchester United (the 5-0 one not the 4-0 or the most recent 7-0 one. The 5-0 at Old Trafford), Klopp emphasized Firmino’s importance to the game as a whole, suggesting he will be important for others to study:
...Bobby, for people with football knowledge, I’m pretty sure when he finishes playing people will write books about the way he interpreted the false-nine position.
I don’t say he invented it or we invented it, but with the way he plays from time to time it looks like it. There are different things to do on the pitch, so yeah, Bobby knows how much we appreciate what he is doing.
This echoes Andy Robertson back in 2019, who identified how Firmino’s all-around play makes it all possible for the Reds:
People will say there are better strikers, but what he does is so important to our team. He’s our first line of defense, he nicks the ball in midfield and then he goes up the park and scores goals and makes assists. We’d be lost without him. He’s world class.
Sadio Mané was emphatic in his praise for Firmino back in 2021 when speaking to ESPN Brazil:
He deserves more credit than me and Mo, for sure. But it is part of football, [people] always seeing the goals scored. But without Bobby, I don’t see me and Mo score as many goals as we have, to be honest. He makes everything easier for us.
Brazil are just lucky to have Firmino. I have always said to Bobby: ‘You will have to change your nationality and come to Senegal’. For me, that would be a dream. I just love him. I think he is my favorite team-mate.
His praises aren’t limited to those who share a dressing room with him, of course. Gary Neville told Sky Sports just how good Firmino is back in 2020:
Any manager in the world would love to have Firmino as their center-forward. I think he’s absolutely incredible. He’s selfless, brilliant, scores goals, sets things up, they can link off him, makes all the right runs, an outstanding player.
Though Firmino’s skillset certainly brings him praise, it’s the effect he has on supporters that might just be the most important thing for the Brazilian’s legacy at Liverpool. In his own long read on Firmino for The Guardian, Sachin Nakrani makes a connection to the spirit of Bill Shankly, whose statue is marked with the phrase, “He made the people happy.” Nakrani tells us that “[i]n his own unique way, Firmino has done the same.” You can’t help but agree.
VIII. Firmino: A Player For the People
Bobby Firmino means a lot of things to all of us, and all of those things are positive. Some of his best moments have been nowhere near a football pitch. No Bobby No Party, as it were.
What are your favorite Bobby Firmino memories?
I asked Twitter, and they had a lot to say — but leave yours in the comments here!
A lot of Bobby humor and flair here:
What's your favorite Bobby Firmino moment that was NOT a goal or assist?— Mari Lewis (@MariCLewis) March 5, 2023
And a lot of more personal moments here:
Yeah I’m gonna write about Bobby Firmino.— Mari Lewis (@MariCLewis) March 3, 2023
If you want to leave your fave Bobby memory — or what to mention what me means to you or something akin to that! — please do so in the replies here (:
Of course, if we’re all being serious, the best Bobby Firmino moment was his face undercutting thousands of media headlines about a rift between the front three:
Firmino's face in the middle of Salah and Mane's argument. pic.twitter.com/I5VTx4s3wj— Not Match of the Day (@NOT_MOTD) September 1, 2019
 Form influenced by Jeremy Collins’s interpretation of Wallace Steven’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” used to worth through grief and memory after the loss of his best friend.