The shelf life for soccer the players might just be the little ones. Baseball would love to make it happen, but in the world of football it still basically works that once you hit 30, they start counting on you. So on the one hand, it looks like Roberto Firmino has been playing for Liverpool forever. In another, on the statistics sheet, he was really just a main cog in the line-up for six seasons, and at the club for eight in total, which is hardly a flash. How could it be just the two?
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Firmino arrived at Liverpool with the club in a big mess. The Brendan Rodgers era was disintegrating at an alarming rate, Steven Gerrard was gone, and it felt like that brief spring 2014 window when they could and should have won the league was closed forever. It was a spec on the horizon, if that. Like everything else at the end of Rodgers’ reign, he had no idea how to use Firmino or too many ideas how to use him. Right before Rodgers was screwed, we even saw Bobby as a right-back. What exactly was going on here?
Today’s game doesn’t really have a place for the traditional #1. 10 more, and certainly not in the Wine Diesel vehicle pace of the Premier League. Even the central strikers are no longer what the central strikers used to be, forced to run, press and open channels for others. Jurgen Klopp showed up, coming out of his laboratory of weirdness and said: “I’m going to make sure Firmino is both a number one. 10 and no. 9 at the same time! then cackled that maniacal Klopp laugh that we find so endearing and is probably the cringest sound in the world for everyone.
Bobby as off-center as Jurgen Klopp
Lucky for Klopp, and lucky for us, Bobby was just as off-center as his manager and took on the role fully. Liverpool fans will remember it all starting with a game at Man City, with Klopp shouting at Firmino to go further and lead the line more than he was, then he scored his first Liverpool goal a few minutes later. It was as if something was born then.
Much of Klopp’s and Liverpool’s system depended on Firmino’s energy, ingenuity and endless playfulness. He could run all day to unleash that furious pressure in the front two seasons. He was furious on the counter-attack and smiled with delight in the immeasurable chaos that Liverpool was at the time. When Klopp wanted more control with the ball as the team developed, Firmino was no less comfortable dropping the front line into that pocket between the two forward midfielders and between the defensive lines. It seemed like most games he had this force field around him when he had the ball, going right past future tacklers who seemed to just ricochet through the air around him before sliding into Salah or Mane or ending .
And yet, while doing all of this, he still found more than enough time to also be in the box to finish. 81 times in fact.
And even with his long to-do list drawn up by Klopp, Firmino still found time to do some bullshit. Like that:
And when it felt really spicy, there were the no-look goals in an open net or the devilish finishes just because he wanted to.
A fake 9 with all the trimmings
It would probably be saying too much that Firmino invented the false 9 role, because teams had used him before, and he wasn’t just a false 9. He was the false 9 with all the trimmings. He certainly made it his own, while never hiding how well he did doing all those things that weren’t supposed to come with just one player. Perhaps no player has held such a sonic structure while being completely forward-thinking like Firmino.
Every fan has their favorite goals from club legends. Most could pick their winner against PSG as he suffered an eye injury in training the day before and couldn’t really come out of it. Or maybe this hammer of the gods against Stokes. Maybe that slalom against Arsenal.
Maybe the one that won the Club World Championship at the end of 2019. Mine came a few days after that. Both goals against Leicester weren’t that special on their own. But Liverpool came back from the Middle East for this Boxing Day clash, away from the team that was second at the time, and simply rubbed Leicester’s ass in the moonlight for 90 minutes at the rate of a score of 4-0 to leave no doubt that the league title finally returns to Anfield. It was as thorough a team takedown as we’d seen, and leading the way was Bobby and that Vegas-gigawatt smile with which he played.
Bobby’s game just had too much to hold together forever. You can’t run as much as he does and do all the other things too in your 30s. The arrival of Luis Diaz last season kind of pushed Bobby to the sidelines, exacerbated by the arrivals of Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo this season. Football doesn’t wait and doesn’t do sentimentality very well either.
Bobby played his last game at Anfield for Liverpool last Saturday and scored, of course. His Rouge career will end on Sunday. A career full of mischief and energy and celebrations of karate kicks and well-timed tackles and passes that no one should ever have tried or even seen and just utter joy that is unlikely to be replicated.
Man, how could there only be six seasons, really? Like Firmino on the pitch, there was so much in him that it doesn’t feel like it could only have been six seasons, just as it couldn’t have been in just one player.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.