From the shadows to the spotlight: Liverpool hero Origi's long road to redemption
The Belgian recovered from serious injury and a miserable loan spell at Wolfsburg last season to net the winner in Sunday’s dramatic Merseyside derby
Of all the many, many words that have been spoken about this most wonderful, absurd of sports down the years, it was perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson, memorably, who summed it up best.
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“Football…. bloody hell!”
The Scot’s words rang as true as they ever have at around five past six on Sunday afternoon, as Anfield bounced to another famous victory. The drama of the 232nd Merseyside derby ensured it will be remembered for years, a day when Liverpool was red and Everton were blue – and all thanks to the hero nobody saw coming.
Forget the Jordan Pickford memes – and yes, social media really can be the most savage of places at times – the real story of Sunday was Divock Origi. From the shadows to the spotlight, and all in the space of a dozen minutes. Never underestimate football’s penchant for a redemption tale.
This, don’t forget, was a player who hadn’t played a Premier League game since August 2017, who hadn’t appeared at Anfield in 19 months and whose first-team minutes this season, prior to the weekend, had totalled 11. His last Liverpool goal? May 2017. His last Anfield strike came a month before that.
This was a player whose last goal of any kind came in September for the Reds’ Under-23 team. Origi lined up for Neil Critchley’s side against Swansea at Kirkby that day, while 200 miles away Jurgen Klopp’s first-teamers were beating Tottenham at Wembley.
This is a player who left Liverpool on loan last season and could have done so permanently during the summer. A player who went to Germany to shine, but failed to do so. A return of six goals in 34 appearances at Wolfsburg was hardly likely to play him back into Liverpool’s team, was it?
Had Origi wanted to, he could have been lining up against Liverpool in the third round of the FA Cup next month. Wolverhampton Wanderers, newly-promoted and eager to spend, thought they had landed the Belgian back in July. An offer of £22 million ($28m) plus add-ons was deemed acceptable by Liverpool, but the player decided against the move.
Interest from across Europe, most notably from Valencia and Borussia Dortmund, failed to develop into something more concrete, and Origi was still at Anfield when the European transfer window closed at the end of August. His season, it seemed, would be spent on the sidelines.
A shame, considering this was a striker who had shown genuine signs of promise for Liverpool in the past. His first campaign on Merseyside, 2015-16, brought 10 goals and his next brought 11. Important goals too, some of them. Two against Everton, two against Dortmund. Memorable moments.
Wolfsburg paid a substantial fee, around £6m ($7.7m), to loan him for a season. The idea was that, at 22, Origi would go to Germany, play games, score goals and rediscover his spark in a competitive team.
It didn’t happen. Origi played under three different managers in a range of different positions and tactical systems. His form, and Wolfsburg’s, rarely lifted above mediocre. His side avoided relegation from the Bundesliga only after winning a two-legged play-off against Holstein Kiel.
Origi scored in that play-off, though his struggles in Germany would come at a cost. When Belgium announced their squad for the World Cup in May, he was not even on the standby list.
“It was a learning season for me,” Origi said after returning to Melwood in the summer. “I learned a lot mentally and grew a lot. I think I’ve come back more mature.” The aim, he said, was “getting fit, getting back into my rhythm as soon as I can and hopefully scoring as many goals as possible.”
He’s a popular character around the training ground. Fluent in four languages, he reckons he’d have been a psychologist had it not been for football. “I get my friends to do personality tests and see what type they resemble,” he said once. “At Liverpool, I can say who is an introvert and who is an extrovert.”
He was, of course, smiling on Sunday as he walked through the Anfield mixed zone. “I just try to shine my light and see wherever it goes,” he said, rather poetically.
His manager and team-mates, meanwhile, were paying tribute to their match-winner. “He hasn’t been playing but he’s never moaned or complained,” said Gini Wijnaldum. “He deserved that chance to play, and the fact that he scored and gave us the three points makes it even more beautiful.”
Trent Alexander-Arnold paid tribute to his “instinct” for following in when most would have given up, while Virgil van Dijk offered a jokey admonishment. “He should have scored one where I headed it to him,” the defender grinned. “And I told him!”
The identity of his victims, of course, adds something to the story. It was against Everton, in April 2016, that Origi’s development was severely affected by a crude, ankle-damaging challenge from Ramiro Funes Mori. At the time, he was Liverpool’s first-choice centre forward.
“I’ve never forgotten it since,” Jurgen Klopp said. “At that time he was outstanding. After that it took a long time before he felt absolutely anything.
“Now, he can finish that book, and from now on everything will be fine again.”
A nice idea, and certainly Origi’s Lazarus impression has come at a good time for Liverpool, with seven games to come in the next four weeks. Klopp’s squad will be put to the test, and he will be pleased to know that, if nothing else, there is one more legitimate option available to him, off the bench or otherwise.
Beyond that, who knows? Liverpool, Goal understands, would still be open to selling should they receive an offer in excess of £20m (€$25.6m) but again it will depend on the player, whose contract runs until the summer of 2020.
For now, though, Origi deserves the chance to bask in the glory. “It’s an example to everybody,” Klopp said on Tuesday. “Make yourself ready for the moment.”
Origi did, and even if he does nothing else for Liverpool, Sunday will feel like enough.