Roberto Firmino dodged transfer question and missed bonuses en route to Liverpool stardom

Roberto Firmino is concentrating. Hard.

We are in the North Liverpool Academy, the impressive school a stone’s throw from Anfield which turns itself into a giant car park on a matchday.

This is the day after a game though, and a gruelling game at that. The Reds had edged past Stoke City on penalties in the League Cup semi-final after losing the home second leg 1-0.

After playing the full 120 minutes on that January 2016 night, Firmino had been one of six home players to score from the spot, with Joe Allen slotting the winner to send Jurgen Klopp to Wembley just three months into his new job.

When asked if he was nervous when he had stepped up to his penalty, which he scored with aplomb, Firmino – who was at the school for a photoshoot and exclusive interview – listened to the question being relayed to him in Portuguese by his representative and interpreter, then shrugged, laughed and smiled that beaming smile that we’d all get used to. Nervous? We didn’t know him very well back then.

Firmino was the most curious of the signings made during what would prove to be Brendan Rodgers’ final summer at Liverpool, and suspicion always seemed to surround his arrival.

A now infamous article attacking the work of “laptop guru” Michael Edwards and the club’s transfer committee in making some of those 2015 signings, and inferring that they had been against Rodgers’ wishes, now has a place in Liverpool folklore.

Apparently Edwards and his team were “yet to explain” why they forked out £29million to sign Firmino from Hoffenheim, with the £10million Divock Origi also listed among the apparently “countless other errors” which played a part in Rodgers’ dismissal.

Firmino had played seven times under the Northern Irishman, winning just twice, doing a stint at left-wing back in a defeat at Old Trafford and going off injured in a League Cup win over Carlisle, a scraped victory on penalties, in what would prove to be his final game under Rodgers’ tutelage.

When he returned a month later Klopp was in place, so was he pleased that a manager who knew him from the Bundesliga – where he’d scored 49 goals in four-and-a-half years with Hoffenheim – was now in charge of him in England?

We weren’t allowed to find out. That question was the only one blocked by his representatives in that January 2016 interview, probably out of respect for Rodgers instead of anything sinister. It was soon clear to see the change though.

With Klopp establishing a position for Firmino – who wore No.11 back then – as a floating False 9, it was now obvious to see why Edwards and co had signed him.

After a fine display in a 3-1 win at Chelsea, he scored his first Liverpool goal in the 4-1 success at Manchester City – just his fourth start under Klopp – that announced just what this team could be capable of under their new boss. There was no turning back from here.

Firmino managed 11 goals in his first Reds season, which isn’t bad considering he only scored once in his first 24 appearances of it, and after playing a key role in the era-shifting 2016-17 campaign – April winning goals at Stoke and West Brom proving vital for Champions League qualification – it was the summer of 2017 when Mohamed Salah was added to the attacking ranks which already included 2016 signing Sadio Mane. Now the fun could really begin.

Indeed, Firmino’s 2017-18 might well go down as one of the great underrated seasons in Liverpool history.

His haul of 27 goals in 54 appearances is comfortably a career-best, but – perhaps because he’s been there the longest – he was already seen more as the foil to Salah and Mane than anything else.

He would take up a role of facilitating for the deadly pair on the wings, dropping deep and making space for them to shine even if that meant his own performances would be lauded much less.

This selflessness was made all the more remarkable by the uncovering of the goal bonus clauses in his contract, one of the heavily incentivised deals introduced under Edwards that many credit as the reason for the Reds’ recent successes.

Firmino famously passed up a £45,000 goal bonus – part of a structured bonus system in his contract – as he simply stood and watched a Mane effort against Stoke trickle over the line when he could have scored himself, and while that was the most marked of these instances there were several more when he put the team, and above all his fellow forwards, above himself.

That’s not to say there haven’t been his moments in front of goal though.

He was genuinely prolific in that 2017-18 campaign, scoring 11 in 15 games en route to the Champions League final, while he developed a habit of torturing Arsenal over the years, scored big goals in the Premier League winning season and settled the semi-final and final of the Club World Cup, the latter a raucous Doha winner against Flamengo in a competition that means so much to South Americans.

There has been a drop-off in recent years of course, and it is extremely likely that Firmino wouldn’t have started Saturday’s 9-0 drubbing of Bournemouth had either Darwin Nunez or Diogo Jota been available, but his importance to Liverpool goes on, and as he brought up his 100th strike for the club in front of the Klopp there was that grin again, and the delight of a crowd who treasure him.

At 31 in October and out of contract at the end of this season it seems likely that Firmino will be allowed to move on soon.

His place in Liverpool legend is secured though, with an impact as beaming and bright as that smile.

Manchester United

Man Utd and Chelsea urged to make ‘win-win’ swap deal as transfer deadline edges closer

Manchester United club captain Harry Maguire has been urged to leave Old Trafford and move to Chelsea this summer after the England defender was dropped for the Red Devils’ 2-1 win over Liverpool on Monday. United boss Erik ten Hag preferred new signing Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane in the heart of the defence, and the decision has prompted fresh calls for Maguire to move elsewhere in the final week of the transfer window.

Chelsea have been previously linked with a move for Maguire, as they reportedly enquired about the possibility of signing the centre-back with winger Christian Pulisic going the other way in a potential swap deal.

Thomas Tuchel’s side have been actively looking to bolster their defensive options, with Leicester’s Wesley Fofana heavily linked with a move while United’s pursuits of Antony and Cody Gakpo show that another winger could be brought into the club.

Former Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit believes that time is up for Maguire at United and has urged the 29-year-old to move to Stamford Bridge in the final week of the transfer window. “For me, I’m not sure his future is laying with Manchester United,” Petit told Fair Betting Sites. “I think things have gone too far.

“To be honest with you, if I am Maguire, I would probably think about leaving. Because the World Cup is coming, so if I’m not playing, that means my position in the national team is in danger as well. All the dangers are surrounding him.

“He needs to take a very strong decision for his future right now. If I’m Maguire, I cannot see myself playing the next game. Ten Hag has been convinced with Varane and Martinez – I can guarantee they will play the next game. And if they play well and they win again, he will never change his team. That means Maguire can spend weeks on the bench, looking at his team-mates.

“He needs to take a big decision. If he wants to play for Chelsea, that could be good for him. I think he would probably play, because Thiago Silva is aged, and they need a central defender. I think it’s a win-win position for Chelsea and Maguire. If I am Maguire, I would leave Manchester United.”

Ten Hag explained why he left Maguire out of the side that defeated Liverpool, and claimed that the defender still has a big part to play this season. “You look at the approach to this game, we have a squad, a lot of games to cover, and we thought for this game it was best to make these changes,” Ten Hag said. “It doesn’t mean anything for the future.

“Varane is a really experienced player, he’s won everything in his career and will bring the communication in the back four, but that’s also what Harry does. We want mobility and agility in the back four, so that’s also why we have decided to play with the other three.”

Manchester United

Raphael Varane ‘I know exactly why Casemiro chose to join Manchester United’

Manchester United defender Raphael Varane has expressed his excitement to play alongside new signing Casemiro and believes the midfielder’s pursuit of a new challenge was a key factor in his decision to leave Real Madrid.

The 30-year-old Brazil international completed his £70m switch to the Red Devils on Monday night and was unveiled to the Old Trafford crowd before their impressive 2-1 Premier League victory against rivals Liverpool.

Varane, who played the full 90 minutes at centre-back, spent eight years with Casemiro at Real Madrid and they won 16 trophies together with the Spanish giants, including four Champions Leagues.

Casemiro ended his nine-year association with Los Blancos on a high, helping the club win the La Liga title and Champions League last season before lifting the UEFA Super Cup earlier this month.

Varane believes that Casemiro will thrive in the Premier League and insists that the midfielder did not need to be persuaded to move to Old Trafford.

“Yeah, very excited (about Casemiro’s arrival). I know perfectly his quality. He can bring this balance to the team and his mentality. He’s a warrior, so I think he will really enjoy English football. I know him (laughs),” Varane told reporters on Monday via the Manchester Evening News.

“I think it was a perfect night for him to meet Old Trafford because the atmosphere was absolutely amazing, and he brings a victory so it’s nice!

“I think he doesn’t need my help to make his choice. I know exactly what he feels and why he’s coming here after what he lived in Madrid.

“He needs a new challenge, I know exactly what he feels, and I know exactly why he chose this club. It’s a similar process that I had so obviously I wish him the best and I’m speaking with him a lot, but he didn’t need me to make his choice.”

Speaking to the Man United’s official website on his arrival at the club, Casemiro said: “The opportunity to start a new challenge at Manchester United and in the Premier League is extremely exciting.

“I have worked with many great managers in my career and, having met with Erik ten Hag and heard his ideas, I can’t wait to work closely with him, his staff and my new teammates in the coming years.

“I’m ending one beautiful journey in Madrid whilst starting another in Manchester as determined as ever to win football matches, win trophies and make our fans proud by bringing success to this great club.

“Everybody knows the history of Manchester United, the significance of the club around the world and what it means to its supporters. To represent United is an honour and I am ready to give everything to help the team achieve our ambitions.”

Casemiro could make his debut for the Red Devils on Saturday lunchtime when they travel to St Mary’s for their Premier League encounter against Southampton.

Manchester United

Antony to Man Utd transfer: Agents remaining in England to thrash out deal before deadline

Manchester United are confident of signing Ajax forward Antony in a deal worth up to £80million.

United had an initial bid of £67.9m rebuffed by Erik ten Hag’s former club, but will increase that offer to £75m, with a further £5m due in add-ons. Ajax want £85m for the Brazil international, but United believe their improved bid, rising to a potential £80m with the completion of contract-related clauses, will get the deal done.

Antony is desperate to push through a move to United before next Thursday’s transfer deadline and has submitted a formal transfer request to Ajax to try to accelerate the process.

The 22-year-old’s representatives are understood to be remaining in England until the window closes on September 1, to try to get the deal over the line. Personal terms will not be an issue between Antony and United, who will offer the versatile forward a five-year contract, with an option for an extra year.

Old Trafford sources are confident a deal for Antony will be done, particularly given the relationship between former United keeper Edwin van der Sar – now Ajax CEO – and his old club. United have conducted plenty of business with Ajax in recent seasons, including the signing of defender Lisandro Martinez this summer and midfielder Donny van de Beek back in 2020.

Antony is set to become the 10th Brazilian to sign for United, joining compatriot Casemiro, whose £70m move from Real Madrid was confirmed on Monday. And the veteran midfielder has hinted he is ready to raise the standards at Old Trafford and promised to be at full pelt not only in matches, but in training sessions with his new team-mates.

“I’m a player that loves to work hard,” Casemiro told United’s official website. “A player that gives everything on the pitch, but not just over 90 minutes, in training too, which for me is the most important thing.

“You train as you play and I think, regardless of the scoreline or what’s happening on the pitch, of course everyone wants to win matches, win in training, learn in training.

“But I’m one of those players who wants to go home and know that I’ve done my job, so that’s my philosophy, my mentality and now it’s all about giving everything for Manchester United.

“For me, you train like you play and I feel that’s key to winning games and titles. You have to train as hard as possible to play at your best, be strong and fully committed.”

As a sign of his commitment to United, Casemiro has vowed to learn English as quickly as possible so he can communicate with everyone at the club. “My wife speaks English, I have a seven-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son, so they speak a bit better English than me,” Casemiro said.

“I’m truly sorry to all of the United fans that I don’t speak English, but I want to study, I want to learn as soon as possible so that I can learn about English culture, to learn English and speak to my friends, my team-mates, all the club staff – I want to show them I’m o

Manchester United

Sir Jim Ratcliffe: Billionaire wants to buy Manchester United

British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe wants to buy Manchester United.

News of the 69-year-old’s interest follows a Bloomberg report that the Glazer family are willing to sell a minority stake in the club.

“If the club is for sale, Jim is definitely a potential buyer,” Ratcliffe’s spokesperson told The Times.

“If something like this was possible, we would be interested in talking with a view to long-term ownership.”

United, 20-time English champions, are bottom of the Premier League after losing both their opening games of the season under new manager Erik ten Hag.

The woeful start has intensified criticism of the Glazers and their perceived lack of investment in the team.

This summer has seen new signings fail to materialise, including a fruitless pursuit of Barcelona‘s Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong, while superstar striker Cristiano Ronaldo could leave Old Trafford.

The club has struggled since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 and has not won a trophy since 2017.

There have been multiple protests against the Glazers’ ownership in recent years, including one in May 2021 which caused the Red Devils’ home league match against Liverpool to be postponed.

United fans are planning another protest against the American family during their latest meeting with their Anfield rivals on Monday at Old Trafford.

Lancashire-born Ratcliffe, the majority shareholder of chemical group Ineos, is a boyhood fan of the club. He also owns French side Nice, Swiss club Lausanne-Sport and Ineos Grenadiers cycling team, while Ineos has a partnership with the Mercedes F1 team.

“This is not about the money that has been spent or not spent,” the spokesperson added. “Jim is looking at what can be done now and, knowing how important the club is to the city, it feels like the time is right for a reset.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, said he was joking after tweeting he was going to buy United.

Musk, 51, is reported to have a net worth of $270bn (£223bn) according to Forbes, while Ratcliffe is worth an estimated $16.3bn (£13.5bn).

In May, Ratcliffe made an unsuccessful £4.25bn offer to buy Chelsea after owner Roman Abramovich put the London club up for sale.

At the time, Ratcliffe told BBC Sport he was still a Manchester United fan and the reason he was not bidding for the Red Devils is because they were not for sale.

Manchester United

Erik ten Hag ‘has changed his mind and is now open to letting Cristiano Ronaldo LEAVE Manchester United

Erik ten Hag has reportedly had a change of heart regarding Cristiano Ronaldo‘s future at Manchester United and is now open to letting the wantaway forward to leave.

The 37-year-old’s future at Old Trafford has been up in the air ever since he declared his intention to quit the club earlier in the summer following their failure to qualify for the Champions League.

Ten Hag – who became the club’s first manager in 101 years to lose his first two games following their 4-0 hammering at Brentford on Saturday – has remained adamant throughout the transfer window that Ronaldo remains part of his plans for this season.

But The Athletic claim the 52-year-old has now changed his mind and is open to letting Ronaldo leave, citing his difficult reintegration back into the squad after he missed most of pre-season due to family reasons.

The report claims that since returning to the fold, there have been days where Ronaldo sits by himself during lunch at the canteen at their Carrington training ground.

The same outlet reports there have also been instances of him flapping his arms about in training and trying to argue against the high-pressing approach implemented by Ten Hag.

Sportsmail understands that while Ronaldo is said to be training well, he exchanged words with Ten Hag’s No 2 Steve McClaren at the final whistle after refusing to applaud United’s travelling fans, and there is a feeling that his mood is having a negative effect on the dressing room.

However, United have dismissed suggestions that Ronaldo’s contract could be cancelled and reiterated that he is staying at the club.

The Athletic insists United will only consider selling the Portugal international if they can recruit in the forward areas, which they have found beyond difficult this summer and their need has been exacerbated by Anthony Martial‘s injury.

Options for Ronaldo appear few and far between, with a host of clubs opting against a move for the Portuguese this summer.

United had bid £7.5m for former West Ham and Stoke forward Marko Arnautovic last week, before opting to pull out of a potential deal for the Bologna star following a huge backlash from fans.

Another player United were linked with was RB Salzburg star Benjamin Sesko but the club were beaten to a deal for the promising Slovenian by RB Leipzig, while Alvaro Morata is also a rumoured target.

They have now reportedly contacted PSG forward Mauro Icardi‘s representatives via intermediaries, while United are reportedly also considering a shock swoop for Jamie Vardy.

Vardy is into his 10th season at the King Power Stadium and it remains to be seen whether a move to Old Trafford would be of interest to the striker at this stage of his Career.

The former England international has resisted the overtures of a so-called top six club before when Arsenal approached Leicester for the striker in the wake of the Foxes’ miraculous title win in 2016.