Roberto Firmino 22 Midfielder Hoffenheim Brazil
2013 has been…
Relegation 2013. As Teutonic bluntness goes, it doesn’t get much more terse than the competition name on the advertising boards when Hoffenheim faced Kaiserslautern over two legs for the right to play in 1.Bundesliga this season. Markus Gisdol’s team triumphed over the Red Devils thanks in large part to a 3-1 win in the first leg and the early brace that got them underway in that match at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena.
Those two goals were scored by Roberto Firmino, a Brazilian attacking midfielder who has since grasped Hoffenheim’s top flight lifeline with both hands. The former Figueirense junior scored seven goals in the first ten Bundesliga games of 2013/14 and won a deserved mention in every debate about the frontrunners for the accolade of the winter championship’s best player.
Hoffenheim leak goals as quickly as they can score them – Stuttgart put six past Koen Casteels in early September – but in Firmino they have a player of genuine quality. He’s versatile enough to play as a wide forward or in behind a striker, racing around between the lines either way.
Firmino’s mean streak on the field hasn’t gone unnoticed but it’s his level of production that really catches the eye. It was best highlighted in Hoffenheim’s 5-1 victory over Hamburg in August. He scored two and made the other three, his assists on that day very nearly as good as his goals. He does score some beauties, mind you.
This season he has very much become a talisman for Gisdol’s Hoffenheim and he can only benefit from better stability than last term, which was punctuated by two coaching changes and that last-gasp survival. He does everything you’d expect of a flair player: he has lovely vision, good passing (if a little languid, even lazy, on occasion) and a willingness to beat a man at every opportunity.
His footwork is effective too, despite often looking as if it shouldn’t be. There’s no perfection or polish; Firmino looks at times as if he’s as capable of tackling himself as being dispossessed by an opponent, but his occasional apparent clumsiness on the ball does nothing to detract from his comfort with it at his feet. Indeed, his unpredictability usually means he comes out with the ball anyway, or is fouled as he tries to do so.
He’s quick, ambitious, aggressive and supremely confident in his own ability. He works hard, shirks nothing and takes responsibility with excellent movement and a predilection for shots from distance, with varying consequences. In the grand scheme of things the good outweighs the raw tenfold, and he’s only going to mature further.
Firmino has overcome a serious ankle ligament injury sustained in April 2012 and his problems arriving for training on time earlier in his Hoffenheim career, and now has his sights set on the biggest target available to him. In the summer, Firmino said he felt he was ready for the national team.
That’s a lofty claim for any Brazilian player and it seems unlikely that he will be able to do enough between now and the spring to win a place in the squad for the World Cup, though if he can maintain his current trajectory he might just be closer than we think.
World Cup or not, one has to wonder whether Firmino is long for Hoffenheim. Players who impact matches as frequently and as forcefully as the Brazilian tend to be the subject of a lot of attention. Interest from the Russian Premier League in the close season came to nought, but next summer could be the one that sees Firmino make a move to a team that enjoys regular European football.
"The young Brazilian has gotten better and better with each year in the Bundesliga. Now he had his best ever start to a season and is one third of one of the most exciting attacks in the Bundesliga. His dream is to play at the World Cup next year and at this rate Scolari should really consider him." - Cristian Nyari, Bundesliga Fanatic
"Since August 2011; no-one has played more games for Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga than Roberto Firmino (74)." - Opta
B A talisman at 22, with more to come