As chants of ‘Si Senor’ rang around Anfield on Saturday evening, Liverpool’s departing hero Roberto Firmino took time to soak in the serenading of the home crowd.
The Brazilian made his 361st appearance in a red shirt and almost provided a fairytale finish in his final home game, scoring a last-minute equaliser in the 1-1 draw against Aston Villa.
But despite 10 minutes of added time, the 31-year-old could not conjure another magical moment which would have taken the roof off the stadium.
When Firmino leaves the pitch at Southampton on the final day of the season next Sunday, he will do so as one of Liverpool’s greats in the Premier League era.
‘I will miss all of them’
“Give the ball to Bobby and he will score,” is the line in Firmino’s song that was on loop at Leicester’s King Power Stadium on Monday.
He missed the 3-0 win over the Foxes, but returned from injury to appear as a 72nd-minute substitute and net in front of the Kop against Villa, bringing the curtain down at Anfield with an emotional farewell.
Liverpool’s squad went back into the dressing room after the final whistle and re-emerged to form a guard of honour, with departing players including Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner afforded a generous ovation from team-mates and fans.
But it was modern-day great Firmino who took the loudest applause, with new boy Cody Gakpo bowing down in appreciation in the line-up before the four players who are leaving in the summer were presented with a framed picture by Reds legend Sir Kenny Dalglish.
With tears filling up Firmino’s eyes, family members poured on to the pitch with children scoring goals into the open nets before embarking on a lap of appreciation.
“Both contributions of Milly (Milner) and Bobby was crazy,” manager Jurgen Klopp told BBC Sport. “We saw what we will miss. That is how it is.
“It is a story we wrote together, now we have to write a new story and they have to write a new story. We have to step up leadership-wise without Milly.
“Bobby is Bobby. I will miss all of them. It is better we all feel really bad that they leave than happy.”
Signed by former Reds manager Brendan Rodgers in 2015, former Hoffenheim attacker Firmino notched his 110th Liverpool goal and 40th in the league at home against Villa.
He will leave as one of only three Liverpool players with 100 or more goal involvements, including 50 or more assists in the Premier League, behind Mohamed Salah and Steven Gerrard.
Firmino won the lot at Liverpool, including Champions League glory in 2019 and helping to end the club’s 30-year top-flight title drought in 2020.
“Not only Bobby, I will miss each and every one of them,” defender Virgil van Dijk told BBC Sport. “They have played their part and been successful, they contributed in their won way.,
“Bobby has been a very big part of the goals and assists together with Sadio (Mane) and Mo. They create the headline but what the other three have done should not go unnoticed and that is why they are respected within the group and by Liverpool fans.”
‘I am not that spoiled’
The two points dropped at home against Villa look like ending Liverpool’s hopes of a top-four finish.
Manchester United’s victory over Bournemouth on Saturday leaves the Red Devils and Newcastle needing just a point from their final two games to secure Champions League places for next season.
Liverpool have been inconsistent for much of their campaign and end it without silverware, having come agonisingly close to achieving an unprecedented Quadruple last term.
A seven-game winning streak came too late in the season and they will almost certainly have to contend with Europa League football next year.
A rebuild of an aging squad is on the agenda too, with Klopp needing to replace Firmino and stalwart Milner, while Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain leave gaps in midfield.
The Reds moved away from signing Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham because of the costs involved, with the England international in advanced talks to join Real Madrid.
Klopp said: “We will make it [the Europa League] our competition. I am not that spoiled.
“That we are already qualified for the Europa League is incredible with all these teams around us. That’s really difficult and we did it, that is good.
“For so long we couldn’t even hear the sound of the Champions League, that’s how far away we were. The Europa League is absolutely fine. Let’s see what we can do.”
Former Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas said on BBC Radio 5 Live: “Liverpool have had a really good run at it, given they had fallen way below the standards they have set [in previous years].
“Words like rebuild and signings will be thrown around but the reality is they just came up short today [and in the season].
“The rest of the teams in this good run have been down the bottom – Leeds, Leicester, Forest. They just came up against a team today in Villa that are in good form.”
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