Impressing in a season where Liverpool are piling on the pressure to go toe-to-toe with potential league leaders, Roberto Firmino has been a stand out player. A positive soul with a determined spirit, he's an infectious character who has settled to life in Liverpool with ease. We shared time exclusively for SoccerBible Magazine Issue 7.
Juninho, with his dogged spirit and battling flair, was a player who perhaps defined a generation of working class spirit and an inaugural Premier League decade. He had tenacious abilities that inspired and excited and while height was not on his side his South American style built him 10ft taller in the mind of any opponent. Now throw yourself forward and take stock. The question is, has there been a Brazilian player since that folk hero to bring that carnival samba to the Premier League? Perhaps not. Until now.
Swapping the sizzle of Copacabana with the tower blocks of Toxteth? Not quite. The sandy beaches or hard underfoot clay pitches of Brazil, however, have been exchanged with the boggy marsh and the waft of pies that personify the English game. The player putting down the Papaya and picking up the gravy boat? Roberto Firmino. How fitting too, that as we stand next to this man who characterises the vibrancy of a nation, the rain starts to spit and the clouds team up, standing to attention as if to say ‘this is England’. It may sound gloomy but here's where we flip it. Liverpool, and indeed the UK, has been one of the finest exports of creative culture for the world for centuries. From music to football, alongside a kaleidoscope of innovative thinkers, this is actually a place unlike any other. The sun may not always shine on the surface but between the ears and underground it dances the flamenco.
Dressed in the latest innovations from adidas, notably all things Z.N.E, he lifts his hood to accommodate for the conditions and casually starts to describe his first impressions when he joined Liverpool. “Everybody warned me about the weather” he explains, though seemingly well read on the media trained, footballers handbook he adds, “If you work hard it doesn’t matter if it’s raining or not, if it’s hot or cold.” Nicely done, Bob. You’ll go far. Genuinely, however, his body language would imply he’s interested in the events of the day: he’s got his hands on a fresh pair of boots and they seem to tug on the heartstrings. Laceless wonders. Always fascinating to think from youth levels right up to the professional game, whether it’s Maceió, Brazil or Bootle in Liverpool, we all have a connection to those tools or weapons of which we slip into, to play the game. Regardless, not afraid to strike in front of the lens, he’s comfortable. Without hesitation he starts to go further into his move from 1899 Hoffenheim and his current state of mind. “I’ve adapted much better than I expected. It’s a great city and much bigger than the city I used to live in in Germany.”
Liverpool seems to be a place that has captured his imagination as well as those nearest and dearest. For a player in today’s game, when you’ve moved from Brazil to Germany and then on to England, it’s got to be a major tick off the Maslow hierarchy of needs for him to be able to say “my family love it here.” It’s the perfect platform needed to channel his talents as he suits up in that iconic red of Liverpool, touches the world famous sign that reads ‘This is Anfield’, and steps out onto the pitch. An adopted scouser, giving it his best shot to establish the Firmino name up there among the best of them.
For Firmino, wearing the Number 11 shirt is, in itself, an interesting proposition. Much like the lack of impact from Brazilian players on the Premier League, there has been no real icon from the Anfield archives to make that specific shirt number a stand out in the way that marquee players might a ‘7’, ‘8’ or ‘9’. Sure, Jamie Redknapp may hold fond memories for Reds fans but a potential galatico among his generation he was not. Marked in ink and instantly recognisable both on and off the pitch, Roberto Firmino however, shapes a player who wears his passion very much painted under the surface of his skin. He cites his reason for signing for Liverpool as being “because of the club’s tradition.” You can tell, he wants to command a new value for the number ‘11’ that Liverpool simply have not had during their Premier League existence. Indeed his image distinguishes him as a fresh offering to take up these double digits, but most notably, it has been with the ball at feet to which he has backed up his infectious swagger.
Read the full feature inside SoccerBible Magazine Issue 7: 'Northern Quarters' is available now, here.
Photography by Hannah Cassidy for SoccerBible.