Meet the Brazilian box of tricks Liverpool should make their top January target
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: October 2, 1991
- Place of birth: Maceió, Brazil
- Position: Attacking midfield
- Height: 5ft 11in
- Club: Hoffenheim; 128 apps, 43 goals
- Former club: Figueirense, Tombense
- International: Brazil; 2 caps, 1 goal
When Hoffenheim snapped up a 19-year-old Brazilian who'd never been outside of South America, little was expected in Germany. Firmino had been plucked from then-second division side Figueirense for just €4 million, via a brief spell with south-eastern minnows Tombense.
Upon his arrival, the teenager – who looked even younger with his brace-clad teeth – immediately talked about his dreams of playing in the Champions League. Now it seems only a matter of time before his vision becomes a reality. Since seeing snow for the first time in his life, Firmino hasn’t looked back, taking Hoffenheim to their highest-ever league finish of 9th last season.
He was used sparingly in his first season in Sinsheim, but excelled last term – his fourth campaign in the Bundesliga – with 16 goals and 12 assists. Unsurprisingly, the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal were all sniffing before the World Cup.
After scoring his first goal for Brazil against Austria, following his first call-up, the rest of Europe's elite will be clambering over one another for a piece of the talented 23-year-old soon enough.
“Brazilian fans didn't get to know me [at Figueirense] but they'll meet a cheerful guy, full of laughter, someone who is serious on the pitch and a fighter – that great quality of all Brazilians,” he told Globo after getting the call from Dunga.
Why you need to know him
Firmino came to Germany as a skinny and fragile, but supremely talented footballer, with a heart and mind as impressive as his footwork. Having never heard a word of German in his life, some wondered whether a move as big as that, at his age, would be too much to handle.
Yet after just 12 months, Firmino had learned enough of the language to “understand all the German jokes at training”. A slow start on the pitch after signing in December 2010 was followed by a more eye-catching 2011/12 season, when he bagged seven goals and contributed four assists. Still, for the next two seasons the young Brazilian would be regularly substituted as he continued his adjustment to European football.
His goal and assists tally reached double figures for the first time in the Bundesliga last season. But while Hoffenheim's label as Germany's entertainment club (among other, less flattering ones) has begun to wear off after last year's remarkable action at both ends, Firmino remains the conductor of a formidable attack.
Three goals and as many assists this season have seen Europe's big guns scout the playmaker at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. Firmino has been 'on the verge of leaving’ for a few months now, despite signing a new three-year contract in March. With no release clause mentioned and Hoffenheim already rejecting a €12m approach from Lokomotiv Moscow in 2012, the ball is most certainly in the German club's court – for now.
A Brazilian playmaker who plays behind the striker in a four-man attack: Firmino’s strengths are fairly predictable considering where he has come from and operated in his career so far.
He's got confidence in abundance, as he proved with his first goal for Brazil from nearly 25 yards, and a super overhead kick in the German Cup against FSV Frankfurt last month (see below, a game in which he scored two and created two in a 5-1 win over the second-tier side).
Couple his willingness to attempt the audacious with the ability to do so, and you have a player worth watching. He can beat a man with his pace and quick feet, but isn't selfish either and has the vision and mindset to pick the right option once the chance comes his way. He’s willing defensively too, having completed more tackles per game this season than he has given away fouls. Penalties are also no worry for him – he currently holds a record of 11 from 11 in the Bundesliga.
Firmino has the attributes of a perfect playmaker. He’s also gained weight, in a good way. In an interview with Bild last year, he said: “I’ve gained more than four pounds of muscle here. I am more robust, faster, harder and more aggressive with my game.” So don’t think you can bully him off the ball.
When things aren’t going his way, Firmino can often become lost in games and overcomplicate chances. Luckily for any potential suitors he's always asking more of himself, as he revealed in a joint interview with Hoffenheim winger Kevin Volland. “I want to run more,” he declared. “I run an average of 12km per game, but when you’re walking, you can miss chances to score.”
He’s not the strongest in the air – the 23-year-old has lost 61% of his aerial duels this season – and has also conceded 24 fouls in the opening 11 games. Considering his position, these are two areas where you'd hardly expect the Brazilian to thrive.
After his headline-grabbing display for the Seleção in Tuesday's friendly win over Austria, boss Dunga spoke highly of his new recruit. “When I made the first list and summoned Firmino, I asked him what he would bring to the team and told him he smelled of goals,” quipped the Brazil chief. “He sees the goal like few others. When we call upon the players we have an observation to study of each them. Then, obviously it depends on what the player does on the field. He proved himself.”
Did you know?
In Brazil it is customary on someone’s birthday to smash their age in eggs over the celebrating person’s head. When Firmino turned 22 in October last year, his team-mates at Hoffenheim – who he hadn’t told about the custom – decided to celebrate his birthday in true Brazilian fashion. “It was great surprise; the funniest present I’ve had in a while,” said Firmino. Fibber.
- Shooting 8
- Heading 5
- Passing 8
- Tackling 4
- Pace 8
- Dribbling 9
- Creativity 9
- Work-rate 7
What happens next?
It’s rare for a player to have his pick of the bunch when it comes to his future. But for Firmino, especially after his recent performances with Brazil, he has almost every top team around Europe wanting his signature.
He said told kicker: “I’m loyal to Hoffenheim. They brought me to Germany and have developed me into what I am now. My contract is until 2017, but if I have to leave I’m sure there will be reasons.”
If his form continues, it’s hard to see him staying at the small club that brought him across the Atlantic past the end of this season. Now the question is: who wants him most?