Why Signing Roberto Firmino May Be A Risk For Rodgers

New Signing Roberto Firmino (Image from Getty)Liverpool have completed the £29 million signing of Hoffenheim star Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian, who is currently with the Brazil squad playing at the Copa America in Chile has penned a five-year deal worth a reported £100k per week. He becomes Liverpool’s second biggest transfer of all time, behind Andy Carroll and will likely operate as a solo striker in a new look 4-2-3-1 formation for Liverpool next season. He is Liverpool’s fifth signing so far this summer with manager Brendan Rodgers masterminding a complete revamp of the squad that failed miserably last season. With Raheem Sterling edging his way towards the exit, Firmino’s arrival pending a work permit will be a welcome boost to the bewildered Anfield crowd who must have been wondering how Rodgers would reshape the squad and how much money would be spent in doing so. The signing is a show of good faith by the clubs owners, Fenway Sports Group who continue to invest in the club and its infrastructure. That said whilst they have sanctioned the move for Firmino, it is in no way an indication that they are completely bought in to the player being a success and will be watching with interest on how he pans out.

A gamble? Rodgers needs Firmino to be a success   (Image from Getty)

A gamble? Rodgers needs Firmino to be a success
(Image from Getty)

At only 23, Firmino is a viewed as a long-term investment but a potential high risk. His transfer fee maybe second only to the amount Liverpool paid Newcastle for Andy Carroll but his potential sell on value will be much higher especially if he performs. Liverpool have taken calculated gambles like this in the past to varied results. They bought Luiz Suarez from Ajax for £22.8 million, only to sell him four years later to Barcelona for £75 million. Similarly Fernando Torres arrived in the summer of 2007 for just over £20 million before departing three and a half years later to Chelsea for £50 million. There have however been epic failures as well. Last season Mario Balotelli was brought back to England for £16 million but has struggled to live up to the expectations that followed him. Liverpool are now desperate to cut their losses and rid themselves of the misfiring Italian. Balotelli’s signing however was only a fraction of what Andy Carroll cost. At £35 million, he is Liverpool’s most expensive signing to date and their most spectacular flop. Forty-four appearances over an ill-fated two-year stint saw a return of only six goals for the England striker. Liverpool eventually shipped him out on loan to West Ham for an initial £2 million loan fee before selling him permanently to the Hammers for  £15 million a year later.

Andy Carroll is Liverpool's record signing and their worst flop  (Image from Getty)

Andy Carroll is Liverpool’s record signing and their worst flop
(Image from Getty)

Brendan Rodgers knows hat he cannot afford for Firmino to be a flop as his neck is edging closer to the guillotine. With Jurgen Klopp waiting in the wings to take over, Rodgers probably only has to Christmas to prove to the board that he should remain in charge. With Daniel Sturridge out until October at least and his other striking options, Balotelli, Borini and Lambert all heading for the exit, the pressure is on Rodgers to make Firmino a success.  The stats however do not bode well. Despite finishing the 2013-2014 season with Hoffenheim on sixteen league goals, it’s the only time the attacking midfielder turn striker has ever finished in double figures in a league campaign. Much of his success in that season can be attributed to the players around him, like the talented Kevin Volland. The 22-year-old German international had a stand out season that year netting nine times and laying on eight assists, half of which were for Firmino. More concerning is that in that season, Firmino was averaging only two goals a month, hardly a strike rate to write home about. Last season, Firmino only netted seven times despite making the same number of appearances as the 2013-2014 campaign. To be fair, he did operate more as an attacking midfielder in those campaigns than as an out-and-out striker. Which begs the question of why Rodgers would gamble so much on a player who isn’t really a centre forward by trade?

Firmino no doubt has talent and is playing a starring role for Brazil in the Copa in the absence of the now suspended Neymar. But the question still remains on whether he is the right man to lead Liverpool’s front line next season. Firmino started his playing career as a defensive midfielder but has slowly been pushed further forward by the coaches he has worked for as they exploited his talents. For both Brazil and Hoffenheim, Firmino has operated as an attacking midfielder and as a striker but its fair to say that his most comfortable position is the former. From there he can dictate the play, create chances and roam free. As a striker, especially a solo one that ability to roam is curtailed and his role is dramatically changed from provider to finisher. Arguably he can be dropped back into that attacking three for Liverpool when Sturridge regains his fitness but that wont be for some time. Until then Firmino will have to play in that central striker role with Rodgers hoping he is more of a Suarez or Torres than a Carroll or Balotelli. If Firmino succeeds, Rodgers will be hailed as a genius for spotting his potential. But if he fails, the manager could quite easily be regretting this gamble as he packs up his desk and makes way for Klopp.

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Brazil Recovery On Track As Copa Approaches

BrazilThe 2014 World Cup semi final still haunts Brazil. The humiliating defeat at the hands of eventual winners Germany was an eye opener for a team so confident of success in the tournament that they became blinded towards the truth. Despite having arguably one of the best players in the world in Neymar, the Brazil squad selected for the World Cup in their home land was less than inspiring. Luiz Filipe Scolari’s side were good on paper but lacked the creative spark or cutting edge of previous Brazil world cup teams. No Robinho or Ronaldinho to add an extra dimension to their play and no Romario or Ronaldo like striker to fire them to glory. All in all it was a side built for one purpose – to support Neymar. The talented 22 year old was given a free role, allowed to roam and create and basically do what he does best. With that freedom, Neymar shone picking up four goals on route to the quarter finals and placing himself in the running for player of the tournament. But a bad clumsy challenge by Colombia’s Juan Zuniga in the last few minutes of their clash in the quarters ruled Neymar out for the rest of the tournament. Heading into the semi’s Brazil were like a chicken with its head cut off. Unable to function and without Neymar to lead the way, Brazil were torn apart by a rampant Germany hungry for success. The 7-1 score line was flattering to Germany but in truth it could have been more. Their pride severely dented, Brazil’s national team was in tatters.

Brazil were humiliated by Germany in the Semi Final or The World Cup (Image from Getty)

Brazil were humiliated by Germany in the Semi Final or The World Cup (Image from Getty)

Two months later a fresh looking Brazil side took to the field to play Colombia in a friendly. Led out by new manager Dunga returning for a second spell as national boss, Brazil looked nervous yet prepared to start to rewrite the wrongs that had happened months previously. Their ranks had been changed dramatically with several key players from the World Cup notably absent. Striker Fred, who suffered the most due to his poor showing at the World Cup, had retired from international football aged 30 whilst Julio Cesar, Jo, Hulk, Maxwell and Paulinho all were left out in favour of fresh blood. In came Diego Tardelli, Everton Ribeiro, Philippe Coutinho and a recall for Robinho to add options to Brazil’s approach. The inclusion of Atletico Madrid defender Miranda was also welcomed by the fans and Brazilian media, many of whom felt that he should have been part of the World Cup squad in the first place and not have been excluded. His addition helped to solidify a shaky looking defence, even if it meant breaking up the much hyped PSG duo of David Luiz and Thiago Silva.  The match against Colombia finished in a 1-0 win with newly appointed captain Neymar sealing the win with an 83rd minute free kick. That nervous win would kick start a run of friendly victories that has now stretched to eight in a row. Brazil are back so it would seem and with a bang. Or are they?

Yes they have played against some good sides (notably France, Chile, Argentina and Colombia) scoring 18 times and conceding just twice but in a majority of the games Brazil have labored away to get the win. This may be due to Dunga crafting the team in his vision – less flair, more workhorse like in their performances. Brazil is more disciplined than before preferring to play through teams on the deck rather than looking for adventurous but risky long balls. Neymar in his new role as captain has a more disciplined approach too, less free to roam the pitch and more focused on linking the play and inspiring the team with some quick setup work or a shot on goal. The results of this change have been evident with the Barcelona player scoring eight times in as many games, including a self demolition of Japan when he scored four goals. Unlike during the World Cup though, the pressure on Neymar as his country’s only real goal threat has been lifted with several new players drafted in to ease the burden. In particular, the emergence of Hoffenheim’s Roberto Firmino has been a massive boost to Brazil’s attacking options with the 23 year old playing a significant role as provider and finisher of some of Brazil’s best moves in recent games. Despite having only four caps to date, Firmino has scored two fantastic goals and looks set to cement his place in Dunga’s long term plans as long as his form continues for both club and country.

Brazil’s fresh start under Dunga has been impressive to date but the biggest challenges await with the Copa America the first of them. Due to be played in Chile in June, Dunga will know that only a strong performance and perhaps a win will be enough to mend the bridges with the Brazil fans that were so violently destroyed by that defeat by Germany. The Copa is far from an easy competition to win, arguably tougher than the World Cup so Brazil will need to be on their best form to be triumphant. Brazil face Peru, Colombia and Venezuela in the group stage starting June 14th with progression expected. Failure to progress is not an option open for Dunga especially with the heartache from the World Cup still fresh in Brazilian hearts and minds.

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