Roberto Firmino: The Heart and Soul of the Reds - by Jason Harris
It is an old age question which usually comes back with a whole range of different responses: What is the true definition of a world class footballer?
A high level of skill is naturally one of the most important qualities, however that is only one element. An underrated factor is being able to do the little things that makes your team successful. Having attributes like an insatiable work ethic, and an ability to create goal scoring opportunities for your teammates set you on your way to becoming a complete player.
One player I have come to truly admire for what he consistently produces in both these areas is Roberto Firmino.
Signed by Brendan Rodgers at the start of the 2015/6 campaign from Hoffenheim, the first few months saw him struggle to find his feet which was only natural for someone transitioning to a new league. It also did not help that the beleaguered Rodgers did not know how to fully play to his strengths.
When Jurgen Klopp came to the club, he would have assessed the squad and identified a player he believed could set the standard of what he expected. Firmino was the ideal candidate for that role. Klopp, who saw the talent of the Brazilian first hand in the Bundesliga, made a subtle change by playing Firmino in a more central attacking role.
While not known as a natural striker, it was his versatility which caught the eye of the manager. Once he regained his confidence, Firmino's impact was clear, and his good form marked the beginning of the end for Daniel Sturridge as a guaranteed starter.
Liverpool fans are always quick to recognise a player who gives their all for the cause and Firmino quickly became a fan favourite for his wholehearted displays and he became the 'face of 'Klopp's Liverpool.'
Another impressive quality that became quickly evident about Firmino, was that he played with a smile on his face. He was just as happy setting up a teammate than scoring the goal himself. That is indeed very rare in today's football where ego quite often gets in the way of comradery among teammates.
While it isn't seen as a 'sexy stat' for forwards, you only have to look at the number of successful tackles made by Firmino (169) in his two and a half years at the club. That is head and shoulders ahead of his nearest competition (Alexis Sanchez with 128). The 26 year-old's ability to read the game so well also saw him register the most interceptions amongst forwards last year (26).
Both statistics show why he is such a valuable player with his ability to defend from the front and why Klopp loves what he brings to the team so much. His ability to mix his "hard graft" along with some traditional samba flair make him a fascinating player to watch.
Last season showed that he was a player rapidly on the rise, but this season he has unquestionably progressed to another level.
Since his arrival, Firmino was naturally compared to his countryman Philippe Coutinho despite being different types of players, however he has emerged from the shadow once and for all. Firmino has already surpassed his league goals tally from the previous two years, while it takes a player of quality to shine on the biggest stage of club football.
However, that is exactly what Firmino has done with seven goals and three assists in the Champions League this season and has arguably been our best player in the competition so far.
The beauty about our current front three is that when one of them has a quiet patch then the other two players are ready to fill the breach. All three also have different strengths, which makes it more difficult for the opposition to identify a way to stop the trio.
It might be a big statement to make, but taking everything into account, I believe Firmino is currently our most important player. This is certainly not taking away from the brilliant form of Mo Salah this season, however you need someone to set the standard in all aspects of the game and Firmino has done that on a consistent basis.
Debate has raged over the past few years about the lack of leaders in the current Liverpool side. While Jordan Henderson is the current captain, constant injury setbacks have deprived him a consistent opportunity to show his worth in the role.
His deputy James Milner, is as solid a pro as you would find in football, but he has probably reached the stage of his career where he isn't a automatic selection for the starting eleven.
Some would conclude that in the current trend of major squad rotation from one game to the next, that the captains armband has somewhat lost its aura. Taking all that into account, can Firmino be a future candidate to be captain of the Reds?
I would personally love that to be the case, however In this day and age managers tend to give the role a to a central defender who can see the whole pitch in front of them, or a central midfielder who covers a lot of ground.
So while the Brazilian is unlikely to be given the role, he will certainly continue to remain the heart and soul of this current Liverpool team.