Roberto Firmino on leaving Liverpool: ‘What we achieved was beautiful – but it is time to go’
Roberto Firmino was always moving. It was the secret of his success. He would dart and scurry, hassling opponents and setting up teammates, stamping his hyperactive approach on every game, personifying the Liverpool team whose relish for running put them on top of the world.
He is moving again now; just in a way that, instead of spurring everyone else on, has rendered them sad. He is moving on. “It is time, unfortunately,” said the Brazilian on the eve of his final appearance at Anfield. “The cycle here is ended and I understand it is time to go. I am very proud for everything that I have done here with the team, what we achieved together and the beautiful history we made together. It was absolutely incredible. We are leaving a great legacy.”
An era is ending and, in many ways, it has been the Roberto Firmino era. He was the player who scored the goal that won Liverpool the Club World Cup in 2020. He had been a goalless misfit in a team that were 10th in the Premier League when Jurgen Klopp was appointed. He was the false nine who made their idiosyncratic tactics work. He was the least prolific of an iconic front three, but the most significant. He was the leader of the press and the selfless sidekick to Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Firmino does not balk at the description as the player who symbolised a side who went on to win everything. “It is a privilege,” he said. “That makes me happy. It is an honour.” He leaves Liverpool a legend. “I’m OK with that,” he said, with the trademark smile.
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.
“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 per cent,” he said. The tears will not be confined to Firmino as Liverpool mourn the loss of their greatest false nine.