It may seem a little curious to begin a piece about Liverpool and Roberto Firmino with a quote from Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola but there is more that unites those two football clubs and managers than divides them.
They have both created such a successful, positive, focused environment that players often stay way beyond the usual limits of their patience, happy to play relative bit-part roles to be part of an extraordinary story.
Until they’re not.
“I cannot retain a player who does not play because he has a contract,” said Guardiola in December. “I told my players at this club that I want to see them happy. We’ve known each other for a long time, and if anyone is unhappy then they have to leave.”
Those words applied to Gabriel Jesus, to Raheem Sterling and to Oleksandr Zinchenko, and would have applied to Nathan Ake if Chelsea had paid enough and the Dutchman been unhappy enough.
But it applies equally – or at least should – to Firmino, who after seven years as a central and then peripheral figure in Liverpool’s success, has reportedly decided that he would like to leave.
There are only two compelling reasons to leave Liverpool: for more minutes or for more money. You do not leave Liverpool for more success or to work under a better manager, because neither really exists. This is as good as it gets for most players.
The same applies for Manchester City, who could possibly add ‘passion project’ as a third reason for exit after Ferran Torres joined Barcelona.
If Firmino leaves for Juventus, it will not be for the lure of the Old Lady – though that is compelling – or for the temptation of filthy lucre, but because his Liverpool career is one not of diminishing returns but of diminishing input.
His 3,921 minutes of 2019/20 became 3,371 minutes in 2020/21 after the arrival of Diogo Jota and then just 1,804 minutes in an injury-hit 2021/22 as Jota was joined by Luis Diaz. With Darwin Nunez now in the building, Firmino can see the red writing on the wall that says ‘substitute’.
He absolutely should be unhappy with that situation and his unhappiness absolutely should be rewarded with a pain-free exit if that is what he craves.
Klopp called Firmino “the best offensive defender I ever saw in my life” as recently as October but by the end of May he was largely on the outside looking in, coming off the bench in two cup finals after missing the first of the season with the second of four separate injuries that blighted his campaign.
He declared himself to be “very happy” despite having just one year left on his contract but that was before Liverpool dropped a small fortune on Nunez and the slim chance of him going to this winter’s World Cup with Brazil edged closer to none.
As wonderful as it must be to be part of this Liverpool story, he has edged into ‘bit-part’; playing barely more than Konstantinos Tsimikas does a disservice to his talents.
Liverpool’s rise from fallen giant into mentality monsters would not have happened without Firmino, who set the tone from the front of the pitch with his pressing and exemplary positional play as well as his oft-forgotten finishing, but Liverpool’s attempts to stay on top of the mountain have seen him scrambling to stay relevant.
If Firmino leaves this summer it will be with a neck weighed down by medals and the good will of everybody connected with Liverpool, who should pocket the reported £19m fee and send him merrily on his way to a club that could offer more than a cameo role and a contract to take him deep into his 30s.
He has absolutely earned that with every lung-busting run and no-look finish.