‘Bobby’ Firmino is all fired up to em­u­late his Brazil he­roes

Hav­ing en­joyed his best sea­son yet in a Liver­pool shirt, Roberto Firmino heads to Rus­sia aim­ing to em­u­late his boy­hood he­roes and win Brazil’s sixth World Cup – and put any lin­ger­ing doubters firmly in their place

FourFourTwo - - CONTENTS - Words Caio Car­ri­eri Pho­tog­ra­phy Dun­can El­liott

Roberto Firmino is a happy man, and when he’s a happy man, boy do you know about it. The Liver­pool for­ward has just had his best sea­son yet in a Reds shirt, and now the Brazil­ian is ex­cit­edly an­tic­i­pat­ing his first World Cup. The en­thu­si­asm shows not only in that trade­mark pearly-white smile, but also in the way Firmino strides into the stu­dio to meet Four­fourtwo for a pre-tour­na­ment chit-chat and pho­to­shoot, laugh­ing and jok­ing all the while. “I’ve seen this be­fore but have never played it,” he says with a boy­ish grin as FFT’S snap­per presents him with a Sub­bu­teo ta­ble. Sure enough, his first flick re­sults in a goal. “GOOOOOOOOOLLLL!” he screams, be­fore col­laps­ing into fits of laugh­ter.

Find­ing the back of the net has been some­thing the 26-year-old has done with great reg­u­lar­ity in 2017-18. In fact, Firmino has scored more goals in his third sea­son at An­field – 27 in all com­pe­ti­tions prior to the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal – than he did in his first and sec­ond com­bined (23). Hav­ing pre­vi­ously been some­thing of a sup­port act to Sa­dio Mané and Philippe Coutinho in re­cent years, he’s now un­ques­tion­ably among Liver­pool’s most cru­cial play­ers.

A cer­tain Mohamed Salah may have swept up all of the awards, but Firmino’s con­tri­bu­tion has not gone un­no­ticed, par­tic­u­larly by his club and man­ager, who re­sponded with a new long-term con­tract for the man the fans lov­ingly re­fer to as ‘Bobby’.

But, amaz­ingly, there are still a few peo­ple who are yet to be won over. Back home in Brazil, Firmino isn’t held in quite such high re­gard. Hav­ing left his home­land in 2010 with­out ever play­ing in the do­mes­tic top tier, there re­mains scep­ti­cism in the me­dia and on the ter­races that he may not re­ally be ‘all that’.

“Our kids shouldn’t leave the coun­try too early, oth­er­wise they’ll face the same stuff that Firmino has to cope with when­ever he comes back to play for the na­tional team,” claimed for­mer Torino and Porto for­ward Wal­ter Casagrande, one of Brazil’s most in­flu­en­tial pun­dits, ear­lier this year. “He’s do­ing well for Liver­pool, but doesn’t have a lo­cal back­ground; some­one to root for him.”

Casagrande was one of many Brazil­ians cham­pi­oning the cause of Nagoya Gram­pus striker Jo. The 31-year-old was the lead­ing scorer in Brazil’s top flight dur­ing 2017, bag­ging 18 goals for Corinthi­ans be­fore mov­ing to Ja­pan in Jan­uary. And yes, that’s the same Jo who scored six times in 48 Premier League matches for Manch­ester City and Ever­ton be­tween 2008 and 2011.

“Jo is a bet­ter foot­baller than Firmino,” said Casagrande. “He can of­fer more to the team than Firmino does.”

So what bet­ter way for Firmino to prove the doubters wrong than by firing Brazil to their sixth World Cup crown in Rus­sia?

Do that, and Bobby will have even more to smile about...

Hav­ing hit top form dur­ing the lat­ter stages of qual­i­fy­ing, Brazil are now among the favourites to win the World Cup. How does the team deal with that tag? Firstly, I don’t be­lieve Brazil are the only con­tenders. There are many other teams who could win the com­pe­ti­tion, maybe as many as eight, in­clud­ing Spain and Ger­many. I think there will be some sur­prises, too. To be hon­est, at this World Cup, al­most ev­ery team is a con­tender – it will be very tough. So we have to be as well pre­pared as pos­si­ble and play our best foot­ball if we’re go­ing to win the tour­na­ment. There will be pres­sure on us to do well, but ev­ery big team has to deal with that, not just Brazil. We just have to do our best to win the early games, and then take it step by step.

You have had an in­cred­i­ble sea­son with Liver­pool. How much would it mean to round it off with World Cup suc­cess? I read on­line a few months ago that I was a cer­tainty for the World Cup squad, but I only re­ally be­lieved it when I got the call and it was of­fi­cial.

“I LIVED EV­ERY KICK In 2002. BRAZIL BE­COM­ING CHAM­PI­ONS FOR A FIFTH TIME WAS BEAU­TI­FUL – I EVEN CUT MY HAIR LIKE RONALDO BE­FORE THE SEMI-FI­NALS”

I just hope that I can do with the na­tional team what I’ve done with Liver­pool this sea­son. Win­ning the World Cup would be an in­cred­i­ble achieve­ment, but be­fore all of that we’ve got to work very hard to turn this dream into re­al­ity.

When you join up with the Brazil squad, you’re re­united with your friend, for­mer Liver­pool team-mate, and the man who helped you adapt to life in Eng­land, Philippe Coutinho. Are the two of you still close since he moved to Barcelona? Ev­ery­body knows that Coutinho is a great foot­baller – here in Eng­land they call him ‘The Ma­gi­cian’. He made his de­ci­sion to join Barcelona, but ev­ery time we meet to play for the Sele­cao, we have a good chat and main­tain that friend­ship. He is an ex­cep­tional guy, and one of the best friends foot­ball has given me.

As well as Coutinho and your­self, the cur­rent Sele­cao squad also in­cludes Gabriel Je­sus, Dou­glas Costa, Wil­lian and Ney­mar. Is this the most at­tack­ing Brazil side since the 2002 World Cup-win­ning team of Ronaldo, Ri­valdo and Ronald­inho? That’s a tough ques­tion, but I be­lieve Brazil is en­joy­ing a good up­ris­ing since Tite took over as coach – every­one is play­ing good foot­ball. We had some great re­sults dur­ing the qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign, so I hope we’ll be able to keep that mo­men­tum at the World Cup. I think it’s im­por­tant for the fans to see us play­ing at­tack­ing foot­ball. We are now back at our top level again, play­ing well and win­ning matches.

You left your home­land at just 19 hav­ing never played in Brazil’s top tier, mean­ing you were far from the star name you are to­day. Does that give you added in­cen­tive to prove your­self by hav­ing a good World Cup? Yes, I didn’t get the chance to play in the first divi­sion, only Serie B with Figueirense. De­spite that, I was still able to do well enough to open doors for me in Europe, specif­i­cally at Hof­fen­heim in Ger­many. That was a huge step for­ward in my ca­reer and my life, but the club did ev­ery­thing they could to help me set­tle in there. I learnt a lot in Ger­many and will al­ways be so grate­ful for the fact Hof­fen­heim were will­ing to take a chance on me.

Now you’re highly rated in Europe – many pun­dits would bracket you among the best play­ers in the Premier League – but you don’t get quite the same recog­ni­tion in Brazil. Why is that? I can’t re­ally ex­plain it. It could be be­cause I didn’t play for very long in Brazil be­fore I chose to move to Europe. I left my home when I was young, so I think that’s prob­a­bly the main rea­son – they haven’t seen as much of me com­pared to other play­ers. I may have a bet­ter sta­tus out­side Brazil, but I don’t worry about it too much. What mat­ters to me is that I’m do­ing my job at my club, where I’m very happy at the mo­ment. Ev­ery­thing else will fol­low.

You’ve had a great sea­son for Liver­pool. What have you got to do to take your club form into the World Cup? I just need to keep work­ing hard. I have to main­tain my daily lev­els of ded­i­ca­tion and try to im­prove as much as pos­si­ble, so I am ready and able to al­ways give my best when the tour­na­ment starts.

Brazil face Switzer­land, Costa Rica and Ser­bia in the group stage. What do you make of your chances? It’s a dif­fi­cult group. Ev­ery team will be pre­pared and well or­gan­ised, but we have to do our best to find a way past them.

What’s your first World Cup me­mory? That would be 2002, when I fol­lowed the whole tour­na­ment in Ja­pan and South Korea. I was only 10 years old but I lived ev­ery kick of that World Cup. I woke up in the night to watch the matches. It was one of the most mem­o­rable times of my child­hood. Since then, I’ve dreamed of play­ing at the World Cup.

Where did you watch that tour­na­ment? I was in Ma­ceio, sur­rounded by all of my fam­ily, which is why it’s such an in­cred­i­ble me­mory that still brings me great joy – Brazil be­com­ing world cham­pi­ons for a fifth time was a beau­ti­ful thing. I even cut my hair like Ronaldo be­fore the semi-fi­nals. I was com­pletely in the World Cup vibe and I loved ev­ery sec­ond of it. Might I get a spe­cial hair­cut for this World Cup? Maybe I’ll do some­thing new, yeah. I don’t know what yet, but I al­ways like to change up my look.

Who’s your World Cup hero? Ronald­inho (above). He has al­ways been my in­spi­ra­tion be­cause of his qual­ity and the magic he brought to the pitch. I was a fan of Ronaldo as well, ob­vi­ously. That 2002 team was amaz­ing and for­tu­nately they were crowned world cham­pi­ons. That’s some­thing else Ronaldo did that I’d like to copy!

Liver­pool and Brazil for­ward Roberto Firmino wears adi­das Foot­ball Ne­meziz 18+ for ul­ti­mate agility. Visit adi­das.co.uk for more de­tails

Above Firmino has had his most prolific sea­son for Liver­poolLeft Bobby and Phil re­main friends since the lat­ter left to join Barcelona Far left Eng­land could prove quar­ter-fi­nal foes for the Sele­cao in Rus­sia

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