We take a closer look at Hoffenheim and Brazil forward Roberto Firmino as he is linked with a big money move to Manchester United...
Name: Roberto Firmino
Club: 1899 Hoffenheim
Nation: Brazil (Six appearances, three goals)
What’s his background?
Plucked from the second tier of Brazilian football by Bundesliga mid-table entertainers Hoffenheim, the brace-clad teenager struggled to adapt to foreign climes initially, and it took three seasons for us to see the best of this precocious talent, but it was worth the wait.
Since the start of the 2013-14, Firmino has weighed in with 23 goals and 21 assists in the German top flight, and has attracted interested from several of Europe’s elite clubs, as well as being on Louis van Gaal’s radar.
He was a stand-out performer for Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga this season as he scored seven goals and assisted a further 10 - a total bettered only by Manchester City target Kevin De Bruyne and Werder Bremen's Zlatko Junuzovic.
The 23-year-old has also excelled on the international stage already. As Brazil have looked to bounce back for the Mineirao Massacre at the hands of eventual World Cup champions Germany one year ago, Firmino has offered returning coach Dunga a new lease of life.
Currently in Chile with the Brazil squad at the Copa America, Firmino has been deployed as a false nine by Dunga and has shone in the role - scoring three goals and registering an assist in two starts and four substitute appearances - including the winner in a nonchalant performance in Brazil’s recent victory over Honduras.
What is his style?
Firmino's ambidextrous talents have helped developed his adaptability. Leading the line as a detached striker has been a regular position for his club as well as country, but he is naturally a No 10, while wide forward or even deeper in midfield can also bring out the best in him.
Pace, flamboyance and speed of thought are a given for any fleet-footed boy from Brazil, but it is the 23-year-old’s work-rate that could quickly endear Firmino to the Old Trafford faithful, as well as United’s hard-to-please chieftain.
Confidence is not lacking in his game either, as his 25-yard goal on his full debut from Brazil exemplified. Premier League defences could be in for a rough ride.
Where will he fit at Old Trafford?
“They are stuffed full of attacking midfielders. They have got the likes of Angel di Maria, Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata in that role and I think their priorities do lie elsewhere,” Sky Sports News HQ reporter James Cooper said in response to reports a fee had been agreed for Firmino.
But what separates Firmino from the aforementioned trio is the Brazilian’s ability to play as the man furthest forward – with the air of a man who feels comfortable in doing so.
Also, Firmino’s arrival could allow Van Gaal to have the reshuffle many feel he needs. Januzaj looks likely to be made available, even if only temporarily, while Robin van Persie could join Radamel Falcao in seeking pastures new.
What happens now?
Modest fees of £13m or more recently £21.6m have been mentioned, but having paid just 4m euros for Firmino’s services from Figueirense in December 2010, any sale will accrue a hefty profit for Hoffenheim.
If no fee has yet been agreed, his stock could rise further by adding to his goal tally in Chile, as the man who “smelled of goals," as Dunga so eloquently proclaimed, could attract more interest by aiding a Brazilian renaissance.
With Memphis Depay already secured, Van Gaal could have the young, dynamic and workman-like forward line that he craves, and make United a real force to be reckoned with in 2015-16 – and if reports emanating from German are to be believed, that could happen sooner rather than later.