The man who first tracked the No. 9 as a talent evaluator in Germany says the attacker is the Reds’ most important weapon
Liverpool’s signing of Roberto Firmino in 2015 established the first building block for an eventual attacking big three that has brought Champions League and Premier League glory to Merseyside. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane would follow Firmino to complete the imposing trifecta, bringing their own qualities to the side without diminishing Firmino’s unique creative influence.
Firmino’s rise in England has been a continuation of his rapid development at his previous club Hoffenheim, where his former employers still speak of him as a special figure. Lutz Pfannenstiel, who first scouted him for Hoffenheim, even said the Brazilian playmaker in “Liverpool’s MVP”.
Goal and DAZN conversed with people central to Firmino’s growth in Germany, and the highlights of those exclusive interviews are shared below.
What did the former Hoffenheim scout say about Firmino?
“Everyone talks about Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah,” Pfannenstiel said. “But from my point of view, Roberto is Liverpool’s MVP. He is the one who runs the most, creates the spaces and creates a lot of chances. He sort of lets the other two shine. That’s rewarded within his team, but for me it sometimes gets short shrift in the coverage.
“Klopp taking over at Liverpool was the best thing that could have happened from Roberto’s point of view. He knows exactly what the coach expects from him: Disciplined pressing, high, aggressive tackling. That’s exactly what he learned at Hoffenheim, he knew it inside out and it’s a kind of automatism for him. So Klopp’s way of playing fits like a glove.”
Pfannenstiel claims that while Firmino always had his flair and shiny smile, the finer aspects of his game took shape once he received his German influence at Hoffenheim.
“This slim, wiry Brazilian with the big white teeth and his braces had that certain something,” the former Hoffenheim scout said. “It always seemed as if Roberto was always a little step ahead of his team-mates and opponents. Still, I would never have predicted that one day he could mature into a top international player.
“It wasn’t so easy at the beginning, the game was very fast and very physical. But his regular extra shifts in training helped him adapt quickly.
“Because of his great basic tactical understanding, he understood incredibly quickly how he had to work against the ball. Roberto has always played Brazilian, but thought German. The mixture of these two mentalities also makes him a difference-making player now at Liverpool.”
Firmino is ‘the most inconspicuous world-class player’
Johannes Spors, a former video analyst at Hoffenheim who worked with Firmino, said the player goes under the radar because of his desire to make others better.
“Roberto is the most inconspicuous world-class player there is,” Spors said. “He has the skills to shine himself, but often lets others shine because he works so hard. It’s not a coincidence that he is invaluable for Klopp.”
He added that Firmino’s work-rate has always been notable, even as a younger Bundesliga prospect.
“It was immediately clear that he has extraordinary creative abilities,” Spors said. “But in addition, he was at the top of his game in terms of intensity. He was the player with the most sprints in relation to his total mileage. That is unusual for his position.”
How the Hoffenheim transfer came together
Talent consultant Christian Rapp was deeply involved in Firmino’s move to Germany and discussed the discovery process as well as the inner workings of how Hoffenheim followed through on their interest in him.
“Roberto caught our eye relatively early on, he made his debut in the second division at a young age with Figueirense,” Rapp said. “A close partner of ours from Brazil was in contact with him. He gave me a very favourably cut tape. At that time, people still exchanged CDs.
“Like many other players, we had him roughly on our radar and, after viewing the material, decided that we wanted to bring him to Europe for his further sporting development. We went to Germany with the material and talked to all kinds of people.
“Looking back, it all seems very simple. But you have to realise that signing a young Brazilian player always involves a certain risk. It wasn’t that easy to find interested parties.
“When we met Roberto personally, he was extremely young, he had just got his first braces. At some point, we managed to convince Hoffenheim’s sports director Ernst Tanner and coach Ralf Rangnick that they should take a look at the player. Hoffenheim trusted us because they had previously had good experiences with Carlos Eduardo and Luiz Gustavo.”
One performance in particular sealed the deal for Tanner, Hoffenheim’s sporting director.
“Roberto has played around 40 games for Figueirense, I have seen many of them – but this was his best,” Rapp explained. “Before the referee had even blown his whistle for half-time, Ernst stood up and said: ‘We absolutely have to do this. He has to come immediately in January.'”
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