Five years since Liverpool signed Firmino, Ian Ayre reveals the story

Four flights, three countries, two hemispheres and one picture that went viral! Five years to the day since signing Firmino, Ian Ayre reveals the full story of a transfer that has fired Liverpool to glory

  • Roberto Firmino signed for Liverpool from Hoffenheim on this day in 2015
  • It has proven to be an inspired piece of the business with the Brazilian flourishing
  • But negotiations were long and a flight out to Santiago was needed to seal a deal
  • Nobody has played more games or more minutes for Jurgen Klopp than Firmino 

There is laughter on the other end of the line as Ian Ayre recalls his race across the world to complete one of Liverpool’s most important transfers.

It is five years today since Liverpool announced Roberto Firmino – then a rather unheralded Brazilian – had become the second most expensive signing in their history, with the moment being captured with a photograph on Ayre’s iPhone for posterity.

With Liverpool in a state of flux following a dreadful campaign, attentions had been focused on the future of Brendan Rodgers, the departure of his backroom staff and the addition of a free signing in James Milner when Firmino – suddenly and unexpectedly – came into the picture.

On this day five years ago Liverpool announced the signing of Brazilian star Roberto Firmino

Jurgen Klopp was delighted Firmino was at Anfield when he arrived with the Brazilian crucial

Roberto Firmino – 139

James Milner – 123

Georginio Wijnaldum – 119

Sadio Mane – 109

Jordan Henderson – 107

Mohamed Salah – 97 

As quickly as his name entered the domain, Liverpool had concluded the £29million transfer. If there was curiosity about Firmino and how he would fit in to the team, behind the scenes the delight at completing clandestine negotiations was huge. It felt like a throwback to a bygone era.

Though it might have seemed as if the deal was rushed through, the process to bring him to Anfield was painstaking. Dave Fallows and Barry Hunter had scouted Firmino heavily in Hoffenheim, having trailed him following his arrival in Germany from Figueirense.

The initial impression of Fallows and Hunter was backed up by Michael Edwards, who had seen Firmino’s numbers were sparkling. In the two seasons up to May 2015, he had been involved in 44 goals. Neymar, with 46, was the only Brazilian performing better in Europe’s top five leagues.

When Liverpool decided to press on, it was left to Ayre – the then Chief Executive – to conclude the deal. It involved four flights, three countries, two hemispheres and one picture that went viral when it was released.

‘I remember going out to Hoffenheim to meet with the owner (Dietmar Hopp) and the agent (Roger Whitman) who was representing the club,’ Ayre, who is now Chief Executive of MLS side Nashville, tells Sportsmail

‘We got the deal done and it was all very straight forward. After that, we spoke to Roberto’s agent. He said to me: “We will have to sit down and talk further – do you want to come out here? I’m in Santiago.” I said: “Sure, no problem”.’ 

Firmino pictured wearing a Liverpool shirt after signing for the club in a deal worth £29m

Firmino poses for a picture with Ian Ayre that went viral in the hours after the deal was done

It sounds routine but the reality was different. Ayre jetted back from Germany, had a brief turnaround at home and then headed straight back to Manchester airport to board a flight to Chile; this was not a deal Liverpool intended to lose.

‘It was quite surreal, leaving a European summer to go out to the Copa America and I remember flying into Santiago and seeing the snow-capped mountains,’ Ayre continues. ‘This, really, was nothing different to lots of other deals that we had done before.

‘I always find that face-to-face meetings bring a personal touch. We did it with (Philippe) Coutinho, for (Sadio) Mane. Even Joe Gomez was a drive down to Charlton, to meet him and make sure we completed. That face-to-face aspect is so important to make sure there are no problems.

‘There could have been a problem as the Brazilian FA were running a closed camp and not allowing anyone in to see their squad. But we were really lucky as Dunga, their manager, agreed to let Roberto leave the team hotel and meet me for an hour with his agent.

‘That’s when we did the deal. I took the picture and he was our player.’

Neymar was the only Brazilian performing better in Europe’s top five leagues when he signed

GOAL INVOLVEMENTS UNDER KLOPP IN ALL COMPS

Roberto Firmino – 128

Mohamed Salah – 124

Sadio Mane – 104

James Milner – 62 

Philippe Coutinho – 59

Divock Origi – 40

Trent Alexander-Arnold – 38 

Dunga, before the tournament, said Firmino ‘smells of goals’ and Liverpool were over the moon to have landed him; there was speculation that Manchester United entered the race at a late stage but Ayre made it clear that Liverpool had laid such groundwork that no other club had a chance.

‘We used to get quite a lot of flak about the transfer committee,’ said Ayre. ‘But the guys (Edwards, Fallows and Hunter) had followed him for ages.

‘Barry sniffed him out, Dave consolidated and then Michael and I carried it on. We wanted the negotiations to be low key as possible.

‘When we were talking to Hoffenheim, we did not want anything to come out and distract Roberto.

‘We had talked to them for such a long time and we were determined to make sure it was as smooth as possible. He was a player we really, really wanted.’

If Firmino’s start was slightly inauspicious – he played one game, at Arsenal, as a left-side forward then suffered a serious back injury during a League Cup tie against Carlisle – he caught fire when Jurgen Klopp arrived in the autumn of 2015.

Firmino lifts the Champions League aloft after helping Liverpool beat Tottenham last June

The Brazilian has been involved in more goals than any other Reds player in Klopp’s reign

Many of his team-mates call him ‘hyperactive’ or ‘the machine’, such is his ability to work voraciously and not let anything distract him, but perhaps a better description would be to say that he is glue. If Firmino plays well, Liverpool do too.

Consider this: nobody has played more games for Klopp than Firmino (229) or been on the pitch more (17504 minutes) or provided more assists (51) or been involved in more goals (128) or been involved in more winning matches (139). That £29million now looks a drop in the ocean.

‘I remember when Jurgen came in during his early days,’ said Ayre, who is taking great delight in seeing his old club march to the title.

‘He said: ‘What a player! I can’t believe you got him!’ He was very, very complimentary. He has been an incredible buy – someone out of the very top drawer.’




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