If you play for Liverpool Football Club, you know that you’re doing well when you can elicit praise from a Manchester United icon.
Prior to the 2-0 Europa League victory over Louis Van Gaal’s side, most observers were already well aware of Roberto Firmino’s ascendancy since the beginning of 2016, with some noting that the Brazilian, at least statistically, was approximating, and in some respects eclipsing, a certain Uruguayan’s start at Liverpool. But getting Paul Scholes to concede, through the most gritted of teeth, that “he’s been brilliant” must surely be a landmark achievement for the Liverpool forward.
According to Firmino himself, however, credit should given to Jürgen Klopp. Following an ineffective initial adjustment period under Brendan Rodgers, Firmino was able to slowly reverse the narrative following Klopp’s appointment in October 2015, and he has been picking up steam ever since. Speaking in Liverpool FC’s official magazine, the Brazilian cites an uptick in confidence attributable to the new manager.
“He’s the best manager I’ve worked with. I don’t say that because he picks me all of the time. It’s because of his mentality and personality. He gives confidence to all of the players. He knows what your potential is, so he always says just one or two words to give you confidence and show trust.
That’s important for players. I think everybody likes working with him and we are all improving because of him.”
Not exactly faint praise, but also not exactly unwarranted, even taking into account the fact that players will often use these types of statements to subtly advocate for continued prominence in the starting lineup, “I don’t say that because he picks me all of the time”. After Firmino struggled to find his feet under Rodgers, many had hoped that Klopp, no doubt familiar with the former Hoffenheim man from their shared time in the Bundesliga, would hold the secret to unleashing the Brazilian upon the Premier League.
That secret, at least from Firmino’s perspective, turned out to be a matter of confidence. Which is no simple matter, especially when dealing with a player newly-arrived from a different league, and adjusting to a new club, new city and new language. Whatever Klopp has been saying to Firmino on the training ground has certainly worked, and the manager’s own confidence in Firmino’s versatility and workrate has been apparent in his deployment. Since the new year, Firmino has frequently alternated between attacking midfielder and variations on lone striker roles – and has with few exceptions excelled in each.
“I enjoy playing as a striker. I am there to help the team and I’m happy as long as I am playing,” said the man himself. If Firmino is able to continue mining this rich vein of form, both Klopp and Liverpool supporters will no doubt be happy as long as he is playing too.