Energiser bunny

GETTY IMAGES

Liverpool’s new Brazilian signing, Roberto Firmino, plays with high energy, perseverance and speed of thought, combined with the acceleration required to ensure that his best ideas can be put into practice. By Ben Gladwell.

When a rush of blood to the head saw Brazil deprived of Neymar at the Copa America this summer, the Selecao’s chances looked bleak. The Barcelona forward left his team in the lurch, or did he? The captain’s suspension led to a rethink, and the arrival of a little-known player from the dormant German village of Sinsheim to carry the hopes of a nation.

Roberto Firmino was chosen to fill Neymar’s boots. Backed by a record of 38 Bundesliga goals in 140 appearances, the 23-year-old was no longer such an anonymous figure. Not only had Brazil manager Dunga spotted and recognised his talents, so too had Liverpool. They paid a Bundesliga-record transfer fee of GBP29 million to lure him to Anfield this summer.

Eyebrows may still have been raised on Merseyside. After seeing one of the world’s most recognised strikers — Mario Balotelli — arrive and fail a year ago, how could a less glamorous name heal the wounds left by the departures of Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling? Because Firmino is different!

He does not talk the talk, he walks the walk. It may only have been a closed-door, low-key pre-season friendly against Welsh club TNS, but the day after experiencing his first 13 minutes of Premier League football, Firmino bagged a hat-trick in a 5-1 win. It was a typical workmanlike performance from a man who is a complete contrast to Liverpool’s redundant Italian.

Firmino does not raise one eyebrow when asked to track back and help defend. In fact, he would raise both if any of his team-mates did not pull their weight. It is a trait he has developed in three Bundesliga seasons in which he missed just three games — one each year — although it may be true that he was battle-hardened long before arriving in Germany.

He was only 14 years old when he dedicated himself full-time to the game, leaving his family behind to join Figueirense, a Brazilian second-tier side. Even at a young age, he had a dedication and strength of mind which has not diminished an iota during his rise.

“Roberto trains every single day as if it is his very last,” said Hoffenheim coach Markus Gisdol last season. “The way he trains is also the way he plays.”

During his time at Figueirense, he transformed from a defensive midfielder to an attacking midfielder before being pushed even further up the field in the Bundesliga to the point where he became Hoffenheim’s second striker. That may also explain why he scored seven goals and set up a further 10 last season. Firmino had a hand in 45 Hoffenheim goals in his last 66 Bundesliga appearances.

His goal-scoring rate continues to improve too as he sharpens an already piercing attacking game. According to Gisdol, Firmino did not need anybody to give him more self-confidence and belief that he could be one of the best in the business, he just needed to learn how to use his body better.

That, said Gisdol, is what the Bundesliga club’s coaches worked on with him last term, obtaining the desired results. “I don’t know many players who are able to stay on their feet the way Roberto can when dribbling at high speed, under pressure from his opponents,” said Gisdol.

That work was not undertaken in view of perfecting Firmino for the demands of Premier League football, even if it ultimately has boosted his chances of excelling in a League which beats the Bundesliga for pace and flow. Firmino will have to stay on his feet at high speed if he is to make an impression in England.

That is where similarities can be found with Sterling. Both play the No. 10 position to near perfection, with high energy, perseverance and speed of thought, combined with the acceleration required to ensure their best ideas can be put into practice. Like Sterling, Firmino is set to be a nightmare to defend for the opposition, with Brendan Rodgers perhaps finally finding the man he lacked last season, to plot a repeat of 2013/14.

FACTFILE Name: Roberto Firmino Position: Midfielder Club: Liverpool D.O.B: 2/10/1991 Brazil Caps: 10 Brazil Goals: 4

Moment to remember: Scoring for Brazil against Venezuela in the Copa America.

Moment to forget: Taken off in the second half as Brazil were knocked out of the Copa America by Paraguay in the quarter-finals.

© PA Sport