Of all the stellar contributions Roberto Firmino has made to Liverpool’s success under Jürgen Klopp, perhaps the most invaluable came on an occasion he was on international duty. Renowned for his unselfishness, the modest Brazilian, who once claimed: “I would even play in goal if it helped the team,” could scarcely have done more to help the collective cause than persuade one of his compatriots to join the club. “Fabinho spoke to me when we played at the national team,” he recalled. “Later on he had a good chat with me about Liverpool and immediately I pressed the buttons.”
And how. The correct combination entered, a £43m move from Monaco was agreed in May 2018, Fabinho choosing Liverpool over Manchester United and Arsenal, among other suitors. “Bobby played an important role in me coming here,” he revealed. “I’d spoken to him about what it is like at the club and what the city is like, as well as good areas to live.” His recruitment work done, Agent Firmino was free to focus on his own game while Liverpool’s coaching staff set about whipping the new acquisition into shape.
A product of the Fluminense youth team, Fabinho made his name at Monaco during a run to the 2017 Champions League semi-finals masterminded by Leonardo Jardim. Originally a right-back, Fabinho was sent on loan to the French club from the Portuguese side Rio Ave, having spent a season farmed out to Real Madrid, for whom he made one 24-minute cameo under José Mourinho. It was Jardim who transformed Fabinho, who is now 26, into a defensive midfielder, albeit a reluctant one.
Having been asked to play in the position a handful of times before signing a contract extension with Monaco, he inquired of his agent if it was possible to have a clause inserted that dictated he had to be deployed in his preferred position at one end of a flat back four. It was not.
Having monitored his progress for some time, Liverpool approached him in February 2018 and a deal to bring Fabinho to Anfield was signed, sealed and delivered in less than three months. Announced two days after the Reds’ defeat in the Champions League final at the hands of Real Madrid, it was seen as a statement of intent by Klopp.
The German described his new acquisition – brought in to replace the Juventus-bound Emre Can – as “not only a fantastic player, someone who is an equally fantastic person”. In his first interview for Liverpool’s in-house TV station, he trotted out comments that sounded like the usual bland platitudes but have since proved commendably prophetic. “I will work very hard for him and I am sure I will improve a lot under his leadership,” he said on being asked about his new manager.
For all their excitement at seeing their club move so swiftly for Fabinho, Liverpool’s fans were forced to wait until mid-October for him to make his bow in the muck and bullets of the Premier League. It followed a couple of fleeting getting-to-know-you appearances in the Champions League and one start in the Carabao Cup, rewards for his strict adherence to a long training regime tailored to help him become attuned to the demands required of a regular performer in the tight rhythm section that is such an integral part of Klopp’s famously raucous heavy-metal football jam.
“In the beginning I needed to be patient,” he said. “I constantly looked to learn from my coaches and the players who had been playing here longer. I also think it was important that there were players from my country here who helped me to communicate.” As well as Firmino, there was Allison, who had joined at the same time.
Finding his feet was a gradual process but since doing so Fabinho’s contribution to the cause can scarcely be overstated. Liverpool have not lost any of the 30 Premier League games he has started after becoming the first player to make the club’s holding midfielder role his own since Javier Mascherano more than a decade ago. Tall and rangy, cool and elegant, his ability to cover ground, win possession and use it wisely is considered so imperative that he was left out of the Liverpool team that laboured to victory over Aston Villa last Saturday, as he was just one yellow card away from having to sit out the City game. It was a sensible decision by Klopp, albeit one that would have been used as a stick with which to beat him were it not for Sadio Mané’s late, late intervention at Villa Park.
After a slow but steady rise to a position where he has become almost irreplaceable, Fabinho has been described by Liverpool’s assistant manager, Pepijn Lijnders, as being “like a lighthouse inside the organised chaos that we want”. Assuming Fabinho once again stands tall and helps his more attack‑minded teammates to navigate their way around him, there is every chance the reigning Premier League champions will founder on the Anfield rocks.
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