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Karim Benzema may be about to prove Liverpool fans right about Roberto Firmino



Karim Benzema may be about to prove Liverpool fans right about Roberto Firmino

Liverpool fans could be forgiven for being sick of the sight of Real Madrid, having lost two Champions League finals and been eliminated from the European Cup a further two times by the La Liga giants in recent years.

Yet for one Reds legend it could be a case of if you can’t beat them, join them. Reports this month claim Roberto Firmino could be set for a move to the Bernabeu after deciding to leave Anfield at the end of his contract this summer.

The Daily Mail reported that the Brazilian wanted to see where he would fit into Carlo Ancelotti’s plans before taking a decision on moving to Spain, having ultimately fallen down the pecking order at Liverpool over the past three seasons. However, after ESPN reported that talisman Karim Benzema has decided to leave Real Madrid for a move to Saudi Arabia, it would appear the Spaniards have an opening for the much-loved forward. That second element has now come to pass – with Madrid confirming that the France striker will leave after 14 years at the club.

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Firmino was apparently of interest to the Spaniards before Benzema had even made his decision, of course. Fabrizio Romano reported that Madrid bosses had discussed the Brazilian along with four of five other possible targets. In truth, such an exit would create an odd feeling in a fanbase not yet ready to say goodbye.

Having helped Jurgen Klopp’s men win every major prize since 2018, Liverpool’s famous attacking triumvirate of Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah have repeatedly been linked with a move to the Bernabeu over the years. Yet, in truth, Kopites perhaps feared that the African pair were more likely to be lured away by Real Madrid.

Former Reds loanee Nicolas Anelka, who endured an unsuccessful stint at the Bernabeu after joining from Arsenal in a £22.3m switch in the summer of 1999, would warn the trio against following in his footsteps in an exclusive interview with the ECHO in July 2020.

“It’s an amazing front three,” the Frenchman said. “I love them all, especially Roberto Firmino because he is the key for Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane’s success.

“Salah and Mane are ranking in the top five best players in the world right now. They have the quality to play for Real Madrid. But today Liverpool can compete with Real Madrid so they don’t need to move. Liverpool is very much the place to be.”

Yet Liverpool is no longer the place to be, it would seem, at least temporarily, after they failed to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Meanwhile, Father Time has ultimately caught up on the Reds’ famed front three, with the club bringing in Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz, Darwin Nunez, and Cody Gakpo since 2020.

While Salah would be handed a new contract last summer, Mane would depart for Bayern Munich in a £35m deal. And now, a year on, Firmino is following him out of the exit door.

When talking about reported Real Madrid interest in Salah in 2020, ECHO columnist John Aldridge said: “Personally, I think after the experience of the (2018) Champions League final and the way Ramos treated him, I’d have had a hatred for Real Madrid if it was me, after that incident. It wouldn’t appeal to me but I wouldn’t want to leave Liverpool anyway.”

Yet two and a half years later and the Reds legend’s view has mellowed somewhat, at least when it comes to Firmino.

“Bobby’s been great and got his two goals since he came back,” Aldridge said in his latest ECHO column, referring to Firmino’s farewell strikes against Aston Villa and Southampton. “You almost don’t want him to leave but I think it’s all been done. You move on.

“He’s leaving on a free transfer. Good luck to him wherever he goes, be it Real Madrid or someone else. He’s been a great servant. He’s extremely well-liked by the fans, that’s what you go off.

“Firmino, Mane, and Salah will go down with the likes of Hunt, St. John, Toshack, Keegan, Rush, Dalglish, myself, Beardsley, and Barnes. They are in that category, Liverpool striking legends, but it can’t happen forever.”

In this era of Liverpool legends, where Klopp’s men won the Champions League, were crowned champions of the world, and ending the Reds’ 30-year wait to be crowned champions of England, it’s almost impossible to pick a favourite player. It’s like asking a parent to choose which child they love most.

But really, if you properly force Kopite hands, they all have an extra fondness of the Brazilian. After all, ‘There’s something that the Kop wants you to know. The best in the world, his name is Bobby Firmino.’

Former sporting director Michael Edwards would sum it up best when asked which player was his favourite signing from his Liverpool reign, when penning an open letter to supporters, explaining his departure.

“One of the other questions I always get asked is ‘Who was/is your favourite player?’” he admitted. “That’s a really difficult question to answer so I won’t even try. All I will say is my dog is called Bobby.”

It is this added affection for a player who has scored 111 goals from 362 appearances over the past eight seasons, which would make it easy to allow sentimentality to rule Liverpool’s decision when it comes to Firmino’s future. After netting those farewell strikes against Aston Villa and Southampton, taking his tally to 13 goals for the season, Reds could be forgiven for longing for an 11th hour u-turn from the Brazilian.

Especially considering interest from Real Madrid reiterates the fact that his quality is not in doubt. But as the forward himself concedes, it is time.

“It is time, unfortunately,” he admitted last month. “The cycle here is ended and I understand it is time to go. Maybe one day I could come back, I don’t know, but it’s time to go.”

Firmino’s decision to depart, taking it out of Liverpool hands, ultimately caught both Klopp and his team-mates off-guard.

“This season, we were always asking him when he would sign a new contract,” compatriot Fabinho admitted to Sky Sports.”‘Come on, we want you to sign and stay with us’.

“We didn’t expect him to go. He’s 31 years old so he has a lot to do. He can still play his best football at that age, he’s young.”

Yet if Liverpool had managed to retain Firmino’s services, perhaps that would have been part of their problem despite the growing temptation. Boasting an ageing squad that suffers increasing injuries, which the forward was not immune to, the Reds ultimately stumbled into transition as a result.

But as Klopp said when addressing the Brazilian’s exit, “It’s professional football. Nothing is forever, that’s how it is.

“There is always a moment. It’s a good moment because it means one chapter is closed, but we can start writing a new one. That’s good as well, for them and for us.”

Liverpool have had to respect Firmino’s decision while looking forward to their next chapter. The Brazilian will do the same, and if Real Madrid is the next destination then good luck to him. And maybe at the Bernabeu, he would be granted the stage that would offer him the outside recognition that often eluded him at Anfield.

“He deserves more credit than me and Mo, for sure,” Mane would say of his now former team-mate to ESPN Brazil in February 2021. “But it is part of football, (people) always seeing the goals scored. But without Bobby, I don’t see me and Mo score as many goals as we have, to be honest.

“He makes everything easier for us. Brazil are just lucky to have Firmino. I have always said to Bobby: ‘You will have to change your nationality and come to Senegal’. For me, that would be a dream. I just love him. I think he is my favourite team-mate.”

Despite such praise from his team-mates, critical onlookers have scoffed at a forward who didn’t score enough goals.

That was never the Brazilian’s role. With his beaming pearly white smile, Reds loved his flamboyance. The flicks, the tricks, and the no-look goals.

As much as Kopites will reminisce about many a memorable strike, the mention of Firmino instantly prompts memories of a 360 degree turn against Villarreall and a no-look backheel nutmeg while on the floor against Cardiff City. The Brazilian is a born entertainer.

Now, if handed the opportunity to replace Benzema at Real Madrid, Firmino will be completing Reds fans’ most-feared transfer. And yet they’ll want their favourite adopted son to soar.

Liverpool supporters have always, half tongue-in-cheek, lauded Firmino as the best in the world. If he joins the ‘biggest’ club in the world and becomes their latest ‘Galatico’, the rest of the footballing world might finally cotton on to what the Kop have long-since wanted them to know.

*A version of this article was first published at the start of June.


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