Liverpool scored 49 fewer league goals in 2014/15 than in the previous season so the emphasis in the summer of 2015 was to fix this problem. A creator and scorer supreme was needed. Only 74 goals were scored in all competitions in 2014/15 after goal machine Luis Suarez had left before the season. Top scorer, Steven Gerrard had gone overseas and the second-highest scorer, Raheem Sterling, seemed to be on the brink of leaving the club. Liverpool’s solution was to send CEO Ian Ayre across the Atlantic Ocean to secure the signature of Brazilian attacking midfielder Roberto Firmino before any other club appeared on the scene to hijack the deal. That only one player had cost a higher fee in the club’s history showed how serious it was about getting its man, backed by its.transfer committee.
Jürgen Klopp who had left Dortmund and was recharging his batteries at the time was surprised by Liverpool's purchase at the time: "He was a player I thought was one of the best in the Bundesliga so, when I saw that Liverpool had signed him, I thought: ‘How could Liverpool do this?' Klopp recalled in 2016. "They were not in their 100 per cent best moment and other clubs would have spent more on him so I thought immediately: ‘What a good transfer for them.’ I thought they had made a good signing because I felt pretty sure clubs would have paid a lot more for him. I can see, in the Premier League, you cannot have the perfect overview of the Bundesliga and, in the Bundesliga, you cannot have the perfect overview of the Premier League. So you can know the Champions League and the players who are top-class but there are so many good players you cannot know, only if you watch each game at the weekend. That is normal and a lot of people thought: ‘Hoffenheim, where is this? That is a lot of money.’ [Even] in Germany some people don’t know where it is but, if you play your football there, then you feel it is a tough place and so you know what a decent job the scout did, whoever brought him in for that price. When I knew I was coming here I knew I had a good player."
Firmino was born in the capital city of Brazil’s second smallest state, Alagoas, that also has the lowest Human Development Index score that measures standards in education, health and income, of the country's 27 states. Firmino played junior football for a club in Maceió, Clube de Regatas Brasil, before moving south in his late-teens to represent Figueirense Futebol Clube. Despite its remote location and the difficulty that comes with it of attracting new players, this club has achieved decent enough finishes in its recent history in the country’s top division despite never seriously threatening the regular success of the big city clubs. Firmino made his debut for Figueirense towards the end of 2009 as the club tried to make an immediate return to Serie A following relegation in 2008. A year later Roberto’s eight goals from thirty-six appearances helped to secure promotion and he actually played in over fifty first-team matches during that calendar year.
Shortly after his 19th birthday Firmino took the route to Europe that so many of his countrymen had made before him by signing for German club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. His original contract ran until the end of June 2015 but this was later extended by a further two years and this extension was crucial in determining the massive fee that Liverpool would have to pay to secure his services. He arrived in Germany at the mid-point of a domestic season and therefore did not make his Bundesliga debut until a home fixture against Mainz towards the end of February 2011. By the end of the season he had scored three times in eleven league matches as Hoffenheim finished in eleventh place, a finishing position they repeated in 2012 before narrowing escaping relegation in 2013. Firmino scored twice and made the other goal in his team’s crucial 3-1 home leg victory over Kaiserslautern in the relegation play-offs.
2013/14 was a huge season for both the player and his club. The club improved its finishing position by seven places and the player, by now a regular starter in the team, only missed one league match and scored sixteen goals with a further six coming from four matches in the German Cup, including a hat-trick in the first round against Aumund-Vegesack. This was the form which inevitably brought him to the attention of his country’s selectors and iconic former player Dunga, a World Cup winner in 1994, called him up for friendly matches against Turkey and Austria late in 2014; and he scored the winning goal in Brazil’s 2-1 victory over Austria in Vienna. He also scored the winning goal when Brazil faced Chile at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium at the end of March 2015 and was unsurprisingly a member of Brazil’s 2015 Copa América squad, where his goal against Venezuela in Santiago ensured that his country topped its group and progressed safely to the quarter-finals.
Nearly fifty goals and almost as many assists in the tough, competitive world of German football made the anticipation of Roberto Firmino doing well at his second European club very exciting indeed. Legendary player Ronaldinho, with nearly a century of senior appearances for Brazil behind him, predicted a fruitful career for his countryman who had just joined the Reds: "For Liverpool to have Coutinho and Firmino is a big achievement for them. It is going to give them one of the most exciting midfielders in Europe. The creativity, intelligence and goals they have between them can change Liverpool as a team. It is a big sign of intent. It is a dream for the Liverpool strikers to have that sort of service. They will create so many chances."
Firmino started slowly at Liverpool, struggling to live up to the price tag but after Jürgen Klopp arrived as manager his performances improved and according to various stats sources he was the most effective Premiership player in the second half of the season in respect of goal involvement (scored and assists combined). He scored a respectable ten goals in 31 league appearances but perhaps his most important goal was the second at home to Manchester United in the Europa League. At the end of the season, it was a surprise that he was not called up to the Brazil squad for Copa America. Firmino continued to impress in 2016/17 when he became an integral part of the side, scoring eleven goals in 35 games playing across the front line, enjoying an almost telepathic understanding with Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mané. Klopp was delighted with his maestro: "He is happy so he doesn’t care about getting more credit or recognition. Of course, he is very important because he can play all three positions in our system and, in our system, I’m sure he could play as the No.8 too, like Gini [Wijnaldum], like Phil [Coutinho], like Emre [Can]. He is different but he can play there. He is a very important player, a connecting player, a finisher, a fighter, a defender, the first defender – that is important. A lot of things he is good at are very important for us. He’s still a good listener and a good trainer. He likes to train, he likes to learn, so that is excellent, a nice package.”
2017/18 was even better for Firmino, who took the number 9 as his squad number with Mo Salah coming in at 11. Playing as a centre forward Firmino scored 26 goals in all competitions, eleven of them in the Champions League. He played in all bar one of the Premier League games and was named in Brazil's World Cup squad where he only appeared as a substitute in four out of five matches. Firmino committed himself to 2023 at the end of April 2018 by signing a five-year contract that is said to earn him £180,000 a week. “It was an easy decision,” said the Brazilian. “The club has taken me in in an incredible way and I’ve grown a lot here with my work with the support of the whole team. I am very happy here. Everything fits in the best possible way. My teammates are fantastic and I am grateful to be able to play with them at this club. I love to play for Liverpool FC. The fans are excellent and fantastic in how they support us all the way.”
Although not as prolific in goalscoring terms, 2018/19 was another hugely successful campaign for Firmino. He remained first-choice
centre forward and came off the bench twice as Liverpool trailed in domestic cup ties. His late strike to secure Paris St Germain at Anfield in the opening group stage game of the Champions League proved to be crucial as the Reds only progressed on goal difference before going on to lift the trophy. Firmino scored 16 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions and was called up to Brazil's squad for the Copa America which was taking place on home soil and he proved successful there as well, scoring twice in six matches.
Roberto Firmino doesn't seem as concerned with his goal tally as his fellow forwards, Mané and Salah, and enjoys assisting goals just as much as scoring them. His overall contribution to the team, constantly on the move, filling spaces and tracking opponents, hasn't gone unnoticed as evident in his teammates' praise of the Brazilian and by various pundits. Virgil Van Dijk described him as the greatest-ever player he'd played with when asked in August 2019. “I’m running out of words to describe him,” said Trent Alexander-Arnold in September 2019 after Liverpool's 3-1 victory against Newcastle. “He’s an unbelievable player. I’ve said it before – he’s priceless to us. For us, he’s the best player we could have. He’s the one that makes everything tick, he’s the glue that holds everything together. He is a world-class player.” Thierry Henry was impressed with Roberto Firmino's performances in the 2019/20 season: "His movement, his work-rate, the way he makes the two central defenders move to allow space. Firmino is the most complete striker in the league. I'm not talking about the best finisher or the best work-rate, I'm talking about all round. The most complete in the league." Sky Sports' expert, Gary Neville said: "Any manager in the world would love to have Firmino as their centre forward. I think he’s absolutely incredible. He’s selfless, brilliant, scores goals,
sets things up, they can link off him, makes all the right runs, an outstanding player." Former Arsenal great, Arséne Wenger concurs and he has proved to have a wonderful insight into the game: "The guy who sacrifices himself is Firmino, he works for the team and gets them to shine.”
Jose Mourinho, then a Sky Sports pundit, confessed in September 2019 to being
a fan of Firmino and analysed his importance to the team quite astutely: "Firmino is very important to Salah and to Mane because he drops back in between the lines to allow Salah and Mane to score as many goals. If they play wide and he is a target man, then from wide positions you don’t score as many goals. They do it because they’re inside, between the centre-back and the full-back. Firmino drops back and if he attracts a centre-back, it gives more space to the others. If he doesn’t, he’s free in between the lines to get the ball into play. He's fantastic... I didn’t know the words... I love it now you call it a workhorse, I understand the meaning of it. He works so hard for the team. Salah and Mane, they don’t chase the full-backs all the way, they stay in positions where they can be killing people on the counter-attacks and Firmino compacts with the midfield. Origi, he can replace him and he can still score goals like he did last year in important games, but the style of play, the model of play, without Firmino they are in trouble.”
But the one whose opinion matters the most is certainly Jürgen Klopp and he sung Bobby's praises following Liverpool’s 4-0 win at Leicester on 26 December 2019. “Bobby has four goals in three games and before that he didn’t score that often,” Klopp said. “When people tell me previously Bobby didn’t score for a while I didn’t realise. When I think about Bobby I don’t think about scoring. I think about how important he is. We had a bit of a talk because for the first time since I knew him he looked a little bit concerned about that fact. I told him I am not interested in that number because he is the connector for our team. He is so important for us. He is not the only one who can play that position but he can play that position in a very special way.” Firmino continued to be an important part of Liverpool's triumvirate up front in the 2019/20 season and delivered 12 goals and 13 assists. It holds true that when Firmino plays well, the whole team plays well and in the end Liverpool lifted the Premier League trophy which is testament to his abilities.