It was interesting to hear Thierry Henry, one of the great forwards of the modern era, talking recently about the role of a striker.
“It’s an easy job,” remarked the Arsenal and France legend on The Greatest Game with Jamie Carragher podcast. “You can be bad for a whole game or a whole year, but if you score the goal which wins the game or the title, you’re remembered for life.”
Henry went on to explain that despite his remarkable record – four Premier League Golden Boots, the most goals ever in an Arsenal shirt, more than 50 goals for his country and more than 400 across his professional career – he never considered himself to be “a great goalscorer”.
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He started as a winger, you see, only really moving into the role of ‘striker’ when moving to Arsenal in 1999, aged 21. Even then, he suggested, his game was as much about creating as it was scoring.
“In my mind when I became a No.9, I felt I needed to do something different,” he continued. “Something that could separate me and make that position evolve.
“I’d had enough of listening to people saying you have to feed the No.9. What do you mean you have to feed the 9?! The 9 has to help the wingers, surely?”
Henry, of course, achieved his objective. Few players in the last 20 years, perhaps only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in fact, have redefined a role as he did. He retired in 2014 as not only a great goalscorer but an elite provider - a top-level winger, a No.10 and a centre-forward all rolled into one.
“That is exactly what I was trying to do,” he said. “Can you help your team if your team is not helping you?
“That is the job of a striker. Be available, come into midfield, come and get the ball on the right, on the left, make things happen. For me, you need to have more in your locker than goals.”
Which brings us neatly onto Roberto Firmino. And presumably Henry would approve of the man wearing the No.9 shirt at Liverpool, and what he has in his locker.
Gary Neville certainly does, having eulogised about the Brazilian after Liverpool’s win at Tottenham last weekend.
“I think any manager in the world would have him as the centre-forward in their team,” said the former Manchester United captain on Sky Sports. “I think he’s absolutely incredible.”
Firmino had scored the winner against Spurs, his goal keeping the Reds 14 points clear at the top of the table, but had still felt the need to apologise to Jurgen Klopp at the end of the game.
“He said ‘I know I should have scored more goals’", Klopp revealed afterwards. “It was absolutely not what I wanted to say!”
Firmino’s goal last weekend was his ninth of the season. All of them, curiously, have come away from Anfield, and seven of them have been directly responsible for Liverpool winning games.
“Super player, super,” said Klopp after the Tottenham victory, but while Firmino’s goals bring him attention, it is the rest of his game which sets him apart from his peers.
Neville, again, summed it up: “He’s selfless, brilliant, scores goals, sets things up, they can link off him, he makes all the right runs. Outstanding player.”
Where, one wonders, would Liverpool be without him? Certainly not as cohesive a team, and probably not as comfortable at the top of the Premier League.
There are a lot of key players at Anfield, and Firmino is unquestionably high on the list.
Against Spurs, he covered 11.91 kilometres in 90 minutes. Across the whole of the Premier League last weekend, only three players ran further. And all of them – Dele Alli, Matty Longstaff and Jordan Henderson – were midfielders. Only Dominic Solanke of Bournemouth, with 11.73km, came close in terms of strikers.
That’s Firmino, all-action, hard-running, tactically intelligent and technically immaculate. “What a player,” says Jordan Henderson, his captain. “He is a really important for us, as everyone knows.”
It is the variation which stands out. There are more prolific finishers around, for sure. There are quicker players and more physically dominant players. There are players who strike the ball cleaner and who are more explosive dribblers.
But none combine those skills quite like Firmino. He has the subtlety and awareness of a No.10, the strength and movement of a striker, the touch and skill of a winger and the engine of a midfielder. He tackles more than some defenders do, as well.
“He’s a great goalscorer,” says Dirk Kuyt, the former Liverpool forward, “but he’s also a team player in everything he does. He has his own style, and that’s what makes him special.”
He is also the sort of player that, you can imagine, may help evolve the role of the No.9 in years to come – just as Henry did.
Henry, you’ll not be surprised to hear, is a big fan.
“He’s the most complete striker in the league,” he has said. "I'm not talking about the best finisher or the best work-rate, I'm talking about all round. He’s the most complete in the league."
That’s Firmino. Changing the game – both for Liverpool and for strikers everywhere.