Rabonas tend to happen on October 23. But Roberto Firmino’s flick for Liverpool has rewritten the showboating rulebook.
Over the course of 80 minutes against Genk, Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino did not attempt a single shot on goal.
Genk left-back Jere Uronen did. So did Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson. Even Dejan Lovren, when he wasn’t giving the Belgians a consolation goal, had a headed effort from a corner.
Firmino? Not even a speculative potshot.
For a player we now consider a ‘centre-forward’, and one who wears the according shirt number, that does seem a little strange.
But Liverpool – and Spurs, their next opponents – won’t care much about that.
Of course, they might care a bit about the Brazilian’s touch, turn and assist for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s prodded wondergoal. (And how a squad player like the Ox could grab a brace like that from out of the blue.)
They might also note that, in the Premier League, Firmino takes more shots per game than Sadio Mane and has also scored three times.
Really though, what Liverpool will be most excited about – and what rival teams should be most worried about – was one little pass against Genk. A pass that didn’t even lead to a goal.
Firmino has well and truly thrown down the gauntlet.
That Roberto Firmino flick 🔥
— SuperSport 🏉🏆 (@SuperSportTV) October 23, 2019
Maybe it’s something about October 23, a date you probably have marked in your calendar as Jimmy Bullard’s birthday.
More significantly, it’s also the date on which, five years ago, Tottenham’s Erik Lamela scored a majestic curling rabona from outside the box. (And when Harry Kane had to go in goal after scoring a hat-trick.)
You sense that Firmino had been reminded of that Lamela goal Wednesday morning.
Why else, after 25 minutes of the tie against Genk – and with the game still wide open – would the Brazilian have sought to match the Argentine’s unthinkable rabona goal with an equally unthinkable rabona assist?
For what reason could Firmino have helmed a boat that showy barely a quarter of the way through the match, with Liverpool starting the tie in third place?
Since the Merseyside club face Spurs at the weekend, you might well deduce that Liverpool’s No.9 was playing mind games with Lamela, whose paltry one goal and two assists on Tuesday did not contain a single rabona.
Perhaps Firmino was trying to steal October 23 from his Premier League rival. And if Mane had managed to finish the chance, maybe he would have succeeded.
None of that is remotely plausible, of course, because the scary fact of the matter is that Firmino, in executing the most absurd of passes, was actually doing the right thing for the team.
It’s something that Peter Crouch alluded to during the BT Sport coverage of the game.
“Do you know what I love [about Firmino]?” Crouch said. “There’s flicks and tricks, but they’ve all got a purpose. He’s not a show pony.”
Crouch is right.
In that moment, with barely a yard in which to manoeuvre and with Mane sprinting into the box, Firmino’s delicate little flick could not have been more accurate or more deadly.
That is to say, from a purely pragmatic point of view, the pass could not have been made more effective by removing the showboating aspect. It was mad, outrageous and borderline offensive, but it was the right pass to make and the right way to make it.
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Of course, Lamela’s wondergoal will rightly be remembered long beyond Firmino’s near-assist.
But the Spurs attacker actually was showboating for the sake of showboating. He was in acres of space on the edge of the box and could have hit the ball any way he wanted. While running up to hit it, his conscience would have been saying, “Shit, Erik, you’re not actually going to try a rabona here, are you?”
In the grand scheme of things, the Firmino trick is less magnificent. But it is both brilliant and terrifying, because Firmino seemingly had little thought for its entertainment value.
The forward wasn’t dancing around near the corner flag waiting for an opportune moment to make a trick. Nor did he intentionally put the ball onto his weaker side to tee up an opportunity for the rabona.
This was split-second thinking. This was improvisation from a player whose skills are so ingrained he can execute them at will. Not just on the training pitch or when 3-0 up in the 80th minute.
And when you’ve got that ability in your locker – the ability to make practical even the most impractical of skills – you might not even need to take shots.