Firmino in focus: who is Liverpool's new Brazilian?
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
After Liverpool FC signed Brazilian international Roberto Firmino from TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, UEFA.com's Steffen Potter profiles the Ronaldinho disciple who lit up the Bundesliga.
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He cites Ronaldinho as his role model, hates interviews and has a knack for scoring crucial goals. But just who is Liverpool FC's new signing Roberto Firmino?
The 23-year-old attacking midfielder has joined the Reds from TSG 1899 Hoffenheim for a fee which could reportedly rise as high as €41m. However, he is still a relatively unknown quantity to many Premier League fans despite lighting up the Bundesliga for the last four and a half years.
Firmino arrived in Germany in 2011 at the tender age of 19 having already been voted the best player in the Brazilian second division after his first season with Figueirense FC. Born in Maceio – a city which produced Mario Zagallo and Real Madrid CF's Pepe – the European transition initially proved challenging, something not helped as Hoffenheim battled relegation, though the wiry forward still contributed three goals in 11 substitute appearance. Just a hint of what was to come.
Still developing physically during the next two seasons, Firmino was used more and provided seven goals in 2011/12 and notched five more the following campaign, often at crucial times. "It was important to work on his physique," remembers current Hoffenheim coach Markus Gisdol, who arrived in April 2013 and installed a more attacking system which brought out the best in the Brazilian.
The 2013/14 season was the big breakthrough, his great technique and dribbling skills bringing 16 goals and 11 assists. "I know only a handful of players with his pace who can shrug off challenges in tight spaces like him," explained Gisdol, who also said there was a moment the playmaker "clicked" when it came to the defensive side of the game. "He is now outstanding when it comes to robbing the opponent of the ball." Though he may have developed defensively, it is another part of his game which has been grabbing headlines; in his last 66 Bundesliga games, Firmino has been involved in no less than 45 goals.
One thing which could cause issues with his new club could be the language barrier, the player having failed to pick up German despite four-and-a-half years in the country. That said, any problems caused will be outweighed by the commitment put in on the training pitch. "You play like you train," says the forward who names Ronaldinho as his idol. "I have always tried to play like him. He will always stay my idol."
It was former Hoffenheim sporting director Ernst Tanner who discovered the player in Brazil. "During some drills, he was reprimanded without a reason, but he just listened and learned. That impressed me," he said. Gisdol confirmed that attitude has remained: "In every training session he gives everything, like it would be his last ever."
Firmino went under the radar of national selectors at youth level but his form in the last two seasons meant he could not be ignored by the national side. "I let out a cry of joy after getting the message. I almost started running around because I was so full of joy," he said after learning of his first call-up to the Seleção, before making his debut against Turkey in November.
He has not taken long to impress, already scoring four times in nine appearances and has rapidly become a key man at the Copa América in Neymar's absence. Liverpool fans will be hoping he becomes as prominent as quickly at Anfield. All evidence from Germany suggests he will.