FAREWELL TO THE FAVOURITE
Kop bids emotional goodbye to inspiration Firmino
THERE has probably never been a more enthusiastic greeting for a substitution in the history of Anfield.
With 18 minutes remaining, the Kop got what they had demanded throughout a frustrating afternoon when Jurgen Klopp said ‘Si’ to Roberto Firmino, the greatest senhor ever to have graced this famous old stadium.
Within 60 seconds he had crafted a chance for Trent Alexander-arnold, and the chorus began once more, an emotional appreciation of not just what Liverpool will be missing, but what the Brazilian has brought to the great team Klopp has crafted.
What he did next was so typical of Firmino, an inspiring energy, presence and sheer driving commitment pulsing through him to lift a team which had looked so insipid before his arrival.
The goal was inevitable, finished with the sort of emphatic zeal that suggested Firmino was on a mission to say goodbye in the best possible way. He did, so very nearly turning the game around... and the fans will not forget this afternoon, or this
magnificent player. The last 20 minutes were some of the most emotional of the season as the Anfield crowd willed their hero to have the final say on his last outing here.
Sadly, despite the wonderful entertainment, even Firmino’s magic couldn’t quite conjure the victory the occasion deserved – though Liverpool fans and Klopp will argue that was once again because of the refereeing.
Almost predictably, and certainly painfully, it was a contest once more blighted by controversy surrounding match officials with an unfortunate history of, shall we be polite and say ‘exchanges’, with Klopp.
The Reds boss watched on amazed from his seat in the stand as referee John Brooks decided Ezri Konsa hadn’t deliberately played the ball when it came off him to allow Virgil van Dijk, standing beyond the Villa defensive line, to tee up Cody Gakpo (right) to equalise.
It took a VAR review and Brooks’ own trek over to the monitor to determine the visiting centre-half didn’t mean a touch which was directed back to the Liverpool player – which is bizarre, because what the hell was he doing on the pitch if he didn’t want to intervene in that critical situation?
Klopp was visibly perplexed. We could see the whites of his eyes as he looked at a monitor of his own at the back of the stand, and they turned a murderous shade of darkness.
Was this payback for the questioning of officials – Brooks included – which earned the manager his touchline ban and a £75,000 fine, or coincidence?
Almost certainly a bad coincidence of course, but c’mon, what sort of stunningly insensitive appointment was this by the Premier League and PGMOL to give a game where Klopp has a touchline ban to one of the officials involved in the reason for his punishment?
It is as if they are trying to make a snide point – and that doesn’t smack of firmness, it smacks of pettiness. It is not a good look.
As it was, with Manchester United winning, it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway, but it was a sour note on which to bring down the curtain on four of Liverpool’s impressive clergy in this magnificent church.
Firmino rightly got the attention, but James Milner deserves special praise too.
He has played 331 games for Liverpool and has been one of the biggest influences in the dressing room during Klopp’s reign. He set the tone for everything that has been achieved in the past seven years.
Firmino finished with a total of 361 appearances making him 40th on the all-time list for the Reds.
He will go down in history as one of the greats, and Milner will join him.
At the end most of the 55,000 crowd stayed to pay their tribute enthusiastically to this golden pair, and to Alex Oxladechamberlain and Naby Keita too. It is the end of an era at Anfield, and the passion on display in this beautiful finale will be tough to replace.