Sunday 19 November 2017

Kop's Brazilians want to make history with Klopp

Coutinho: ‘We work for each other’. Photo: Getty
Coutinho: ‘We work for each other’. Photo: Getty

Paul Wilson

The last time Liverpool played Manchester City, the scoreline was utterly convincing. Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino ran riot and Jurgen Klopp's transformation of a side that had been drawing too many games appeared complete.

That 4-1 win at the Etihad stands as one of the performances of the season. Coutinho and Firmino scored, though neither Brazilian imagines today's Capital One Cup final will be as easy.

"We played well in that game," Coutinho recalls. "We did everything the manager asked and it seemed to work, though we have discovered since that days like that don't come along every week." Firmino agrees: "This is a final, so we cannot expect it to be easy."

Coutinho has been at Liverpool three years, and was brought to the club by Brendan Rodgers, though Mauricio Pochettino, who managed him on loan at Espanyol, made a late and unsuccessful bid to divert him to Southampton.

Firmino was also recruited by Rodgers, but the £29m capture from Hoffenheim was still adapting to his new club when Liverpool changed managers. Having played in the Bundesliga, Firmino, along with Emre Can, was the go-to man for details about Liverpool's new boss. "I knew he was an excellent manager and I think he has shown that already," Firmino says. "In the time to come I think it can only get better."

Winning a trophy at Wembley this afternoon would represent a quick return on Liverpool's investment in Klopp. Silverware eluded Rodgers in his three years at Anfield, and Liverpool's last visit to Wembley - a dismal showing in last season's FA Cup semi-final against Aston Villa - is not a happy memory for anyone, not even Coutinho, who scored the opening goal. "It was difficult," he admits. "We thought we were close to the final when we went ahead, but we did not play well and the score was turned around. It was a frustrating moment for everyone but a new chance has come around quite quickly.

"We have a new team developing, a young team with a few experienced players. We work for each other, and if we can win a first title, I hope it could be the beginning of a good period. All the players want to be in the Champions League - that's natural - because a club like Liverpool should be competing in the biggest competitions. Every player wants to make history, be part of the club's history. To do that you must win things, and this can start at Wembley."

Coutinho's father is flying over from Rio for the game. Firmino's wife and child are with him in England but extended family in Brazil will be represented only by the myriad tattoos on the player's arms and hands. "There's one for my wife, my son, my parents," Firmino explains. "Family is everything to me. They have been a great influence in my career."

For the son of a street vendor whose father used to attend big football matches principally to sell drinks outside the stadiums, the last few years have been quite a journey for Firmino, one that may not yet be over if reports of renewed interest from the continent are correct.

His family was always supportive, the 24-year-old says, though his first agent was the one who really launched his career. Which is not bad going, considering his first agent was a dentist. "Not my dentist, but a dentist who happened to see me play," he confirms. "He came to see me afterwards and asked if he could be my agent. Suddenly I was a professional and within a year was playing in Germany. It all happened very quickly but it seemed quite normal at the time. I had always wanted to play in Europe, and it was easy to fit in at Hoffenheim. When the chance to move to Liverpool arrived it was much easier to make the move, because Philippe and other Brazilian friends were already here."

By the time Firmino arrived at Liverpool he had already been called up by Brazil, just as the dentist, Marcellus Portella, had predicted. "People said I was crazy but I just knew the kid had the talent to make it," Portella said at the time. The transfer fee of £29m suggests Portella was not without talent himself, or at least the ability to spot it. "He's not a dentist any more," Firmino says. "After signing me he left dentistry to become an agent full time."


Liverpool v Manchester City,

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