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Roberto Firmino leaves Liverpool as greatest success story of Klopp era

There was always likely to be one final Roberto Firmino moment in front of the Anfield supporters, who have idolised him for the last eight years. And so there was, as the Brazilian scored a late equaliser against Aston Villa to just about keep Liverpool’s chances of finishing in the top four alive.

While the 1-1 draw ultimately left Liverpool’s Champions League qualification hopes hanging by a thread, Firmino was still given a rapturous send-off. Fans sang his name as tears rolled down the Brazilian’s cheeks. Nobody could ever doubt the strength of the connection that grew between him and the Liverpool support.

Bobby – as he’s so affectionately called by Reds fans – displayed similar panache in Liverpool’s final match of the season, where he danced away from Southampton defenders to put away the second goal. It was the type of liveliness, skill, and joy that even fans outside of the club have come to adore.

But by that time Champions League qualification was already out of reach, with Newcastle and Manchester United locking up top-four earlier in the week. It was merely a final happy memory for the Brazilian at the end of a long run that was, at it’s peak, everything fans hold dear about football.

Liverpool have already taken measures to replace the 31-year-old, who found his game time somewhat restricted this season. Darwin Nunez was signed last summer, with Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz also giving Jurgen Klopp a number of different options in attack. The Reds have started the transition into a new era.

Sunday, however, signified the end of a cycle for Liverpool. Firmino was Klopp’s greatest individual success story and the player who came to embody the Reds under the German’s stewardship. Anyone who looked closely at the Brazilian got a good sense of what Liverpool at the peak of their powers stood for.

Klopp moulded Firmino, signed from Hoffenheim for just £29m in 2015, into the perfect centre forward for his system. Deployed in the number nine position, the Brazilian’s ability to drop deep and conduct attacks was key to the way Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah found so much space in front of goal.

Without Firmino, Liverpool’s attack would have looked very different. Mane and Salah might not have enjoyed so much success as goal-scorers. Even playing primarily as a facilitator, Firmino still managed to score 110 goals in 361 appearances in all competitions for the Anfield outfit, contributing more than his fair share to the attacking tally.

At their best, Liverpool excelled at finding undervalued players and moulding them to suit Klopp’s high-energy approach. The evolution of Firmino epitomised this. He arrived at Anfield as a very different player to the one who now departs. He was the ultimate Klopp soccer player.

“You are so football smart, in training sessions you are the first to get the exercise,” said Klopp when describing what made Firmino so special. “It’s like you saw it once: “Ah, okay, go for it”. It’s really special and it makes you the player you are, with all the technical stuff, but your football brain is incredible. That’s all good and makes you the player you are.”

Firmino was good enough to play for any of Europe’s elite teams. It would have been easy to envisage him leading the line for a Pep Guardiola side or a Barcelona team. Real Madrid reportedly made an offer to the Brazilian more than once, but Firmino decided to stay put. At Liverpool, he had everything he needed.

Now entering the twilight of his career, Firmino might not have the breadth of options he would have had a few years ago, but there is still widespread interest in the 31-year-old. Atletico Madrid and various clubs in Major League Soccer are reportedly interested, and Firmino still has plenty more to offer.

But his career will be synonymous with a golden period in Liverpool’s history. The Anfield club won it all under Klopp and are the only team to have got the better of Manchester City in a Premier League title race over the last six seasons. Firmino was arguably part of Liverpool’s strongest ever team, which is quite the feat given the history of the Merseyside club.

Klopp is rebuilding his squad with several new signings expected to arrive this summer, but he will struggle to construct another team that reflects his own identity quite like his first great Liverpool team did. It’s clear Klopp must evolve his own managerial style to push the Reds back to the top and Firmino was a player who Liverpool needed to move on.

Diaz, Jota and Nunez are all very different attackers to Firmino, but that might turn out to be a good thing for Liverpool. Klopp has experimented with a number of different shapes and approaches with the German more willing to using a more orthodox formula in the attacking third of the pitch. Perhaps that’s because he knows there’s no replicating a Roberto Firmino.

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