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17th Aug 2015

Roberto Firmino and the Industrial Revolution

Nooruddean Choudry

There was a point in time when Brazilian football allowed itself to indulge completely in the beautiful game.

It came in the early 80s when the likes of Zico, Socrates, Falcao and Eder were given what looked like full licence to express themselves in the most artistic way possible.

The legacy of that era is that generations of football fans still revere the vintage with misty-eyed wonder. It was almost perfection. But not quite, because they didn’t win the World Cup. A functional Italy beat them with better finishing and more prudent tactics.

Since then there has been a constant schism in Brazilian football. The visceral yearning for joyful expression versus the ultra-rational demand for success. Latterly, the free spirit brigade have taken a battering.

Dunga, the granite-faced coach of the national team, is not the type to indulge your dreams. The Chuckle Brother mop belies a killjoy nature. If ever a manager sought to create a team in his own image it is the World Cup-winning defensive midfield wall.

Everything is now about strength, stamina and universal worth ethic. The only consistent allowance to flair is picking Neymar – and even then it is a case of peppering him with possession and demanding that he perform.

Of course the ideal scenario would be for form and function to combine as one. Marrying Brazilian skills with hard-running and tactical nous keeps everyone happy, but it is far easier said than done.

One player who sits quite happily in the Venn diagram overlap is Liverpool’s new number 11, Roberto Firmino. He has proven both for club and country that imagination and endeavour can merge effectively.

One of the first things that Liverpool fans will notice about the Brazilian is quite how hard he works. There’s an unfailing energy to Firmino’s game that makes him an asset to the side regardless of form.

He is no luxury player that’s for sure. Perhaps unusually for a playmaker, some of his best work is done without the ball. Whether it is making constants runs and angles in the final third, or harassing those in defensive possession, he is rarely not making an impact.

Liverpool have a long tradition of relentless and hard-working strikers – Ian Rush, Luis Suarez and Jack Jones to name but three – and as such their fans appreciate hard graft. Firmino belongs to that lineage.

Not that the former Hoffenheim man is a mere workhorse. If there’s more than a little Germanic application in his play, it is fused with pure Brazilian magic. He is a wonderfully creative presence who will spot the clever runs by teammates that went unrewarded last term.

He can finish too. A goal roughly every three games is a remarkable record considering he isn’t an out-and-out striker and his CV is filled with unfashionable clubs. Again, from an efficiency point of view, he is rarely wasteful with an goalscoring opportunity.

Not that there’s anything particularly efficient about his trademark no-look finish. It’s pure showmanship. As is his mildly ridiculous personal website, in which he looks like he’s about to join John Aldridge and Steve McMahon in performing the Anfield Rap. On acid.

firmino 2

Firmino is a rare player who manages to combine jogo bonito with long-distance jogging. He is simultaneously industrious and impulsive, and should thrive at Anfield. One thing is for sure – it won’t be for a want of trying.