Firmino celebrates scoring in Liverpool’s 7-0 win against Manchester United
All of which represented a shift in his own fortunes. His Liverpool career was transformed by a change in the dugout. Go back to the summer of 2015 and Christian Benteke was the striking signing the manager wanted. Firmino was shunted from flank to flank to bench. “In the first week I was here, even I didn’t know where I would be playing,” he recalled. “I can play everywhere. But me and Brendan Rodgers didn’t understand each other about my position on the pitch. When the current manager arrived, we created a position, the false nine. I say we created it together but he’d say it was me. After that, I just enjoyed the position. Before, the whole time in my career I was a No. 10. And then I came here and became a No. 9, a striker.” Klopp built around Firmino and eulogised him; in 2021, the German predicted people would write books about how the Brazilian played the false nine role.
Instead, there have been tributes this week. At Leicester on Monday, Liverpool fans sang Firmino’s song for 11 minutes. He was not even in the squad. “I was very surprised but I was very emotional as well,” he said. It was not the only rendition. Firmino has his own. “Two days ago, I sang it in the car with my family,” he said. “My children asked if I could put the song on so we could sing together.”
His future entails learning to play it on the piano. He has long had an array of crowd-pleasing tricks. There was the no-look goal, something he started doing at Hoffenheim. And yet, while there have been 109 Liverpool goals, while his favourite was a 2018 injury-time decider against Paris Saint-Germain, while the game he treasures most of his 360 for Liverpool was when he scored a hat-trick against Arsenal, he can prefer to be the provider.
Firmino scores with a trademark ‘no-look’ finish against Arsenal in December 2018 – his favourite Liverpool game
Firmino was integral to Liverpool’s devastating front three: ‘It was an honour and a pleasure’
“Sometimes I enjoy more the assists than actually scoring a goal myself,” he said. It was a way the inverted striker reinvented the role. He played in a position often granted to the most prolific player in the team. He has been outscored by Mane and Salah who joined after him and, in the Senegalese’s case, left before him. “To play alongside these two guys, top players, it was an honour and a pleasure for me,” Firmino said. Given everything he did for them, it was remarkable he scored 27 times in his stunning 2017-18 season.
He was never short of ways to enjoy his goals. “I create every celebration from one day to the next,” he said. It was part of a joie de vivre, and a love of playing football, that felt infectious. “I was always like this,” Firmino said. “I am happy all the time. I smile all the time. Even if I am sad or mad, inside I am happy. It is from my heart.”
There will be one occasion when he does not smile: his Anfield farewell against Aston Villa. “I try to focus on the game because it is an important game for us and after the game I will cry, 100 percent,” he said. The tears will not be confined to Firmino as Liverpool mourn the loss of their greatest false nine.
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