Liverpool have made their first major move in this summer’s transfer window after agreeing to sign Brazil striker Roberto Firmino for a fee of around £29m.
The Seleção striker is currently on international duty at this summer’s Copa América in Chile, where his side have progressed to the quarter-finals of the competition. Speaking in a pre-match press conference, the 23-year-old forward refused to speak about his future, insisting: “My life is here at the Copa América, and I’m thinking only about the Copa. It is in God’s hands, until things are decided at the end. For now, I have a contract with Hoffenheim until 2017.”
However, reports confirm that a five-year deal has been agreed, with Liverpool Chief Executive Ian Ayre flying out to Chile’s capital Sanitago to sign a deal that would make Firmino the club’s second-most expensive signing of all time after Andy Carroll.
The attacker didn’t exactly light up the Bundesliga last season as he scored just seven league goals in 33 appearances to help Hoffe to an eighth place finish. But Firmino contributes more than goals. Comfortable dropping deeper into a number 10 role, the former Figueirense man can play all across the front-line and has shown a willingness to close-down and harry; an attribute Reds manager Brendan Rodgers was hoping (but ultimately failed) to extract from £16m transfer flop Mario Balotelli last year.
Relatively unknown to the media in his homeland, the attacking midfielder joined Hoffenheim for a fee of €4m in a surprise move in the summer of 2011 and has gone to score a total of 49 goals in 153 games. His international record, however, is far more impressive. In the nine caps he’s earned for his country, Firmino has netted four times in just five starts and is now responsible for leading the Brazilian attack at this summer’s tournament in South America following Neymar’s expulsion.
In his final game for Hoffenheim, Firmino, as typical, played the deeper role in a front-three. This is a position we’re likely to see him in next season alongside Daniel Sturridge and another much-needed centre-forward, probably in the shape of Sevilla’s Carlos Bacca. Alternatively, he could also play alongside Phillipe Coutinho in an attacking midfielder role supporting a lone striker, as Raheem Sterling looks set to be heading for an Anfield exit with the Etihad his most likely destination.
In his final outing for the Bundesligsa side, he set up the first and scored the winner in a 2-1 victory over struggling Hertha Berlin. His second coming from close range after a goalkeeping error.
Liverpool’s new signing has been described by Brazilian football expert Tim Vickery as: “Very impressive, mobile and versatile, whether up top or dropping off. He shoots well from range and can score poacher’s goals, he combines well.” Before adding, “He’s a shy lad. Has adapted well to Germany, clearly, so why not Liverpool? The bar is higher now, though.”
The standard will certainly be higher but he’s proved his talent on the international scene with goals against Austria, Chile and Honduras before a glaring miss against Colombia in the 1-0 defeat in game two of the Copa América. The humiliation failed to knock his confidence, however, and he bounced back to score what proved to be the decisive goal against Venezuela in the next match to send Brazil through as group winners.
Firmino looked set to be heading to the red side of Manchester in this close season, with transfer rumours circulating that Louis Van Gaal was willing to spend £13.1m on the attacking midfielder. However, Liverpool and their Fenway Sports Group owners have moved first to open the chequebooks and show their clear intent ahead of the upcoming campaign.
The decision to spend big will also give boss Rodgers a confidence boost, with the large fee reaffirming FSG’s public backing of the Reds head coach after a difficult season. Under pressure from disgruntled and unhappy supporters last year, the Northern Irishman needs a strong start to the season and probably some silverware if he’s to remain at Anfield.
The transfer, which is likely to be confirmed in the coming days, will give Liverpool more options in attack. Firmino’s versatility, work rate and composure will be an added bonus to a strike-force which lacked energy, fitness and goals last year. It’s a huge sum of money and the club are certainly taking a gamble on a player who has never played in either of Europe’s continental competitions but he may prove to be exactly the man Liverpool were crying out for in a disappointing 2014/15 campaign.