During his legendary run at Liverpool, Roberto Firmino became known as the Jurgen Klopp player, which is a stark contrast to his time under Brendan Rodgers.
Throughout his career as a manager, no player has made more appearances for Klopp’s sides than Firmino, who played 355 times over eight seasons.
But when he joined Liverpool from Hoffenheim, it was unclear exactly where the £29 million signing fit in, with Rodgers clearly preferring fellow new arrival Christian Benteke.
In Firmino’s book, ‘Si Senor: My Liverpool Years’, the Brazilian details his relationship with Rodgers and how he eventually learned he never wanted to sign him.
“On the pitch, I had a terrible start that left me wondering how this was going to work out,” Firmino recalled.
“I rarely played as a striker and when I did it was as a winger, with Christian Benteke playing through the middle.
“I remember games against Manchester United and Arsenal where I played on the right side of midfield, with the responsibility to defend more than play; I spent so much of my time dropping so deep and so wide I was practically a full-back.
“I was a long way from the parts of the pitch where I could truly make an impact.
“It was clear that the coach, Brendan Rodgers, didn’t know how to use me.
“I don’t think he understood my style of play – I definitely never understood his plans for me. Maybe that was because he didn’t really have any.”
It was widely reported that, at a time when Liverpool’s recruitment structure was not as refined as it has been in their successful years under Klopp, Firmino was effectively a trade-off for Rodgers bringing in Benteke.
There are a number of examples of which players were Rodgers signings and which were backed by the transfer committee – but it took years for Firmino to realise:
“What I didn’t know, at least not at that point, was that he hadn’t wanted me in the first place. The person who signed me didn’t bother to tell me this tiny detail. When I finally found that out, it all made sense.
“It took me long enough: would you believe me if I said that I only discovered four years later? Just in time for that Boxing Day fixture in 2019 when Liverpool travelled to the King Power Stadium to face Leicester City, managed by Brendan Rodgers.
“A few weeks before that fixture, I had come across an article that told the whole story. Rodgers wanted to sign Benteke to be Liverpool’s number 9. Bringing me in was nothing to do with him; it was a decision taken solely by Liverpool’s scouting and recruitment department.
“The club decided to bring both of us in and let the competition for a place play out on the pitch. Which was all well and good, but it was the coach who selected the team, not the scouting department. Let’s just say I started at a disadvantage. When I read that article years later, I had a feeling of, ‘ah, now I understand: that’s why I was played out of position…that’s why things weren’t working’.
“Rodgers treated me well, or at least that’s how it seemed. He always smiled, spoke to me in Spanish – even though my Spanish wasn’t great – and called me amigo. When it came to games through, he hardly recognised me. Amigo, indeed.
“Luckily, I didn’t have to put up with it for long. By October he had been sacked…soon Jurgen Klopp took over and he had other ideas; that was a totally different story. Just how different, I had decided to show them at Leicester…my way.”
Liverpool’s 4-0 victory over Leicester on Boxing Day is widely regarded as one of the best performances the club has ever seen under Klopp.
Firmino scored twice that evening at the King Power, and in ‘Si Senor’, he revealed that he had already planned to celebrate in front of his former manager to “deliver a message.”
“I never went towards the opposition’s fans, never taunted rivals, never provoked anyone and always shared the celebrations with team-mates,” he continued.
“But that day at the King Power Stadium, I admit, I was delivering a message to the coach on the other bench, a reminder to Brendan Rodgers that he hadn’t believed in me like the boss did.”