The Legacies of Liverpool’s Departing Foursome
Roberto Firmino, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keïta will all exit Liverpool this summer. We take a look at the legacies they’ll each leave behind.
The city of Liverpool has previous experience with saying goodbye to iconic quartets. You might argue that Roberto Firmino, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keïta aren’t quite The Beatles, but in fairness the Fab Four never won the UEFA Champions League.
It was confirmed by Liverpool Football Club on Wednesday that all four players will be leaving Anfield at the end of the season when their respective contracts expire. The club’s number crunchers might not be too pleased that four first-team players will be departing for nothing, but the fans will only be concerned with the memories they leave behind.
Each have been present for the successes of recent years, winning the Champions League, Premier League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, League Cup and FA Cup, while they came close to an unprecedented quadruple last season before being pipped by Manchester City in the league and Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Let’s take a look at all four and try to sum up their respective legacies before they make their emotional farewells to the Reds.
This could be the hardest goodbye of the lot for the fans, as suggested by the almost constant singing of Firmino’s song during the second half of Liverpool’s 3-0 win at Leicester City on Monday. The Brazilian wasn’t even playing.
Firmino arrived from Hoffenheim in the summer of 2015 as one of Brendan Rodgers’ final signings before his dismissal. The story goes that Firmino was a signing made by the club’s transfer committee, while Rodgers wanted to bring in Christian Benteke instead. Liverpool’s owners signed off on both, and it’s fair to say one ended up slightly more successful than the other.
Rodgers was unable to get much out of Firmino before he was replaced in the dugout by Jürgen Klopp in October 2015, but the new boss soon made him the focal point of his attack despite his previous role as a number 10. Klopp was aware of Firmino’s qualities from his time in the Bundesliga and felt he could be his false nine.
He has gone on to make 360 appearances for Liverpool, scoring 109 goals and recording 71 assists, including hitting the winner in the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup final against Flamengo. But unlike most forwards, it is probably his defensive contributions that many will remember most.
That was certainly on show during the 2019-20 season when Liverpool finally won the Premier League title after 30 years without a league championship. Firmino led the league for possession won in the final third in that campaign, doing so 37 times, ahead of Dwight McNeil (35), Nathan Redmond and Danny Ings (both 31).
It is somewhat ironic that Firmino’s song is primarily about him scoring, but then I suppose “Sí señor, if you have the ball in the final third then Bobby will close you down and win possession from youuuu” doesn’t really scan.
Mr. Dependable would not be the most exciting superhero ever, but it has been an appropriate moniker for Milner pretty much throughout his career. The Yorkshire lad joined Liverpool on a free transfer from Manchester City in the same summer as Firmino, already at the age of 29, so it was assumed he would probably contribute a little bit during his last few seasons as a player.
Eight years later and he has spent longer at Liverpool than at any other club, won almost everything there is to win and leaves at the age of 37 with some wondering if he still had even more to give.
Milner has made 330 appearances for the club and comfortably holds Liverpool’s record for most substitute appearances with 129, ahead of Divock Origi (107).
He has 26 goals and 45 assists in that time, though 19 of those goals came from the penalty spot. His assist numbers are more impressive though, particularly from the 2017-18 Champions League campaign. Liverpool reached the final where they were beaten by Real Madrid, but not before Milner had registered nine assists in the competition, the most ever by a player in a single season.
Liverpool’s vice-captain will leave quite a hole at Anfield, but Milner still has plenty to offer and will look to close in on Ryan Giggs (632) and leader Gareth Barry (652) in the Premier League’s all-time appearances list when his next move is finally confirmed.
His time at Liverpool has really been anything but boring.
There were some eyebrows raised when Liverpool bought Oxlade-Chamberlain from Arsenal, which remains the last time the club signed a player directly from a top-six rival.
He seemed to thrive in his new surroundings though, deployed in his preferred role of central midfield after being used out wide by Arsène Wenger, and sometimes as a full-back in his latter days at Arsenal. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s debut season at Anfield was his most productive, recording three goals and seven assists in 32 appearances (14 starts), including an all-action performance in the Champions League quarter-final first leg against Man City.
However, the semi-final was a different matter, with Oxlade-Chamberlain suffering a terrible knee injury against Roma that would see him miss the rest of that season and almost the entirety of the following one.
Missing out on playing in two Champions League finals – he was an unused substitute in the 2018-19 final win over Tottenham Hotspur after only recently returning – seemed to make him more determined, as he actually played his most minutes in a campaign for the club in 2019-20 as Liverpool marched to 99 points and the Premier League title.
Although he only played 30 games, his total of 1,492 minutes was just above the time on the pitch he totted up in his first season (1,484 minutes), and he more than played his part in Liverpool’s historic campaign. Injuries and falling out of favour have seen him make just a combined 39 appearances in the three seasons since then, with only 15 starts. Overall, he has 18 goals and 13 assists in 146 games for the club.
It is little surprise that Oxlade-Chamberlain and the Reds are calling time on their relationship, but The Ox has still made his mark even if injuries left many wondering what might have been.
Speaking of which…
It would be fair to say that Keïta has not lived up to the hype that greeted his arrival in the summer of 2018. Then again, it was probably unreasonable to expect him to given the excessive level of that hype following his impact on the Bundesliga two years prior.
In the 2016-17 season, Keïta was near the top of the Bundesliga charts in almost every important midfield metric. He was seventh for total carries, third for dribbles attempted, sixth for chances created from open play, fourth for duels contested and sixth for tackles attempted. No other player could boast such high numbers across so many areas.
Put simply, he was an all-action midfielder, and therefore it seemed he would fit Klopp’s system like a glove. That’s why Liverpool paid a reported £52 million to secure his signing a season in advance, completing the deal in 2017 ahead of his arrival in 2018.
However, by the time Keïta did join up with his new team, they had also added Virgil van Dijk, Alisson and Fabinho and moved to another level, so it was a faster-moving train that he was having to jump on.
His numbers weren’t bad. In his first season, Keïta led his team in total carries per 90 for players who made at least three appearances and was second only behind Adam Lallana for duels contested per 90, but he struggled to put in consistent performances and was suffering injuries on a regular basis. In fact, he only managed 30 or more appearances in all competitions in two of his five seasons.
And that, really, has been the story of Keïta’s Liverpool career. Fleeting moments interrupted by injury. He has made just 129 appearances in five years, scoring 11 goals and adding six assists. That compares relatively favourably with most of his contemporaries, but not when you consider his price tag and the anticipation that he could take England by storm as he had done in Germany.
The Guinea international does boast one welcome record, with the highest win percentage of any Liverpool player to have played at least 50 games in the Premier League (73.8%).
The man affectionately known as “Naby Lad” by his team-mates will likely go down as a player of unfulfilled potential, but along with the others, will still take plenty of medals with him on the way out.
It feels like a pivotal summer for Liverpool, with this the latest step in their evolution. Saturday’s game with Aston Villa will be an emotional one for fans and players, with it being the last home game for at least these four. Firmino and Milner will probably go down as Liverpool legends, while Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keïta might have less fanfare.
Whether remembered by the Kop 100 years from now or forgotten by the first kick of next season, all four will be able to say they helped to bring the good old days back to Anfield.
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