The evolution of Roberto Firmino has been nothing short of remarkable.
The Brazilian forward was considered by many to be a frustrating forward, capable of the sublime but plagued by inconsistency. But it’s now widely accepted that he’s one of best attackers in Europe.
And Liverpool have managed to tie him down to a new long-term deal meaning the Reds will, for once, reap the rewards having helped develop the former Hoffenheim playmaker. So often in the past, fans have been forced to watch on as world class players have moved elsewhere after honing their craft on Merseyside.
However, it doesn’t appear to be the case with Firmino. The 26-year-old put pen to paper to extend his stay at Anfield until 2023, and in the process became the club’s highest earner, pocketing himself in the region of £180,000-per-week if reports are to be believed.
An interview with the Liverpool No.9 was posted on Liverpoolfc.com after the announcement: “It was an easy decision. The club have taken me in in an incredible way and I’ve grown a lot here with my work with the support of the whole team. I am very, very happy here.
“Everything fits in the best possible way. My teammates are fantastic and I am very grateful to be able to play with them at this club. I love to play for Liverpool FC.
“The fans are excellent and fantastic in how they support us all the way. They support us throughout the games and the work they do during the match is beautiful.”
Firmino's form warrants a new deal and a big pay day. But in previous years, the Reds have failed to do enough to keep their stars at Anfield and have often seemed reluctant to pay players what their rivals are. The lack of regular Champions League football no doubt played a part in this.
Luis Suárez, Raheem Sterling, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano all left the club because they felt as though Liverpool didn't meet their salary expectations and they weren't going to be compensated enough to overlook the lack of silverware.
But the Reds are going places under Jürgen Klopp and their former No.11 could be the poster boy for the new Liverpool way.
He arrived on Merseyside with a lot of potential having starred in the Bundesliga as an attacking midfielder. Upon Brendan Rodgers' dismissal, certain media outlets implied the £29million the club paid for the Brazilian was one of the reasons the now Celtic manager struggled – he was given dud, over-priced tools.
Life on Merseyside didn't start well for him with Rodgers using him as a wing-back. The arrival of Klopp saw him moved into a false-nine position. His off the ball work made him a key cog in the new manager's system.
But he was far from clinical. His highest return for the Reds was 11 goals and calls for a new forward persisted. But Klopp wasn't swayed and persisted with his No.9 and his patience paid off.
The German now has a ruthless striker at his disposal, one that is closing in on 30 goals. This term, he's found the net on 26 occasions in all competitions as well as assisting a further 13 goals.
There's a minimum of three games till to play; not many believed he'd be involved in 40 goals in a single season but he's just one away from doing just that.
Looking at the graphic above, it's clear that a previous weakness is now a strength. His stats when looking at expected goals, expected goals assisted, assists and open play key passes are all roughly the same but his goals per 90 numbers which catch the eye.
He's still an all-rounder, perhaps the best forward in Europe at doing a bit of everything, but he's now a strong finisher. He's not an elite chance-getter, his xG90 of 0.29 shows he doesn't get a high volume of chances, but his finishing adds value to the shots he has.
It's clearly something he's worked on in training, something Klopp and his coaching staff have helped coax out of the forward. And it's something the club should hang their hat on and use when courting players. They can say: “Yes, we know you're good but we can make you even better while competing in Europe's elite competition on a regular basis.”
The decision to put Firmino on a £180,000-per-week deal shows the Reds are now serious about paying the going rate without fluffing deals with add-ons; but only after it's been earned. It's something else to stick in the welcome package when approaching players as a way to incentivise them.
The project being undertaken at Anfield needed a poster boy. In Firmino, they've now got one.