He may not always end up on the score sheet or the highlight reels, but as Roberto Firmino goes so goes Liverpool’s attack. He’s the pivot point, the player unlocking space for those around him, and he’s the one who sets the press when Liverpool turn up the tempo.
He is the team’s most important player, at least in the attacking third and at least as Jürgen Klopp sees it, with the manager regularly praising the striker’s skill and work rate and having previously singled out Firmino as a player who is world class “pretty much every day.”
“We get along so well,” was Firmino’s answer when Eight by Eight magazine asked him about his relationship with Klopp, the manager’s demands, and his key role in this Liverpool side. “He’s an excellent coach, an amazing person, so passionate on the pitch.
“When he [says good things about] me, it’s a sign that I’m giving back what he wants. It motivates me to keep going, to do the things he asks. It was Klopp’s idea to fix me as a number nine [and] now I want to continue in this position until the end of my career.”
Given his importance to how Klopp wants his side to play, one imagines that for as long as the player and manager are together there’s little doubt of him being regularly asked to do anything else—or to return to playing out wide as he did when he joined the Reds.
That he’s now ended up at striker has also been something of a long road progression for the 27-year-old Brazilian, who started out as a defender at the youth level and still shows some of a defender’s toughness and tenacity whenever Liverpool lose the ball.
He didn’t spend long there, though, progressing up the pitch more quickly than perhaps some might have expected given his start as a defender is often talked about—and even if it can sometimes seem as though he must have spent half his career there.
“I was a midfielder,” he said when asked where he played at the youth level. “For a while I played as a central defender, but whenever I got the ball I would start to dribble and to nutmeg people and join the attack. So every year I evolved a little bit further forward.
“Once I got to the U17s, I became a No.10, which was the position I held up until recently—when I established myself as a centre-forward.”