If we are to take Jürgen Klopp at his word, and bearing in mind the German has done little during his Anfield tenure to suggest otherwise, then every member of the Liverpool squad has an unwritten twelve-month contract. Twelve months to prove, year-after-year, that they deserve to be at the club the following season.
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Where then, one wonders, would that leave Divock Origi in Klopp’s thoughts once the time has come to reevaluate who is coming along with him to the next phase of his quest to return Liverpool to the top of English football. If we are to take Klopp’s words literally then surely there must a question mark hanging over Origi’s head, based on this season’s form, as to whether he has a future in L4?
At the time of writing, there are thirteen games to go this season. Thirteen games in which Origi will only get a start due to an injury or a suspension. That’s not a lot of time in which to prove yourself. And make no mistake, Origi does have to prove himself all over again, because he’s not hit the heights most of the Liverpool fanbase might have expected.
This type of situation would be unthinkable only a year ago. Origi was about to enter a rich vein of form that would establish him as the number one striker at Liverpool, ahead of Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino. He led the line at Dortmund, a huge vote of confidence from his manager, and for a few weeks Origi was electric. It was the closest thing the club has had to a new Torres. Then Funes Mori happened and Origi’s season was to end prematurely.
Fit again, and with a pre-season under his belt, expectations were high for Origi. But it just hasn’t happened for the young Belgian this term. The presumption before that opening day trip to the Emirates was that he would be leading the line, but Origi found himself out in the cold instead. In actual fact, Origi’s season didn’t really get going at all until he finally found the key to unlock a stubborn Sunderland rearguard in late November. In the post-match press conference, and though otherwise full of praise, Klopp alluded to some issues he had with Origi’s concentration levels this season; “Timing is very important and now he’s ready again. He had a few problems after the summer break, then played nowhere—for Belgium or for us—but today he was switched on from the first second.” It was an interesting insight from the German for many a supporter had also been wondering where the swashbuckling striker of earlier that year had disappeared to.
An injury to Philippe Coutinho against the Black Cats was to provide Origi a platform in which to stake his claim for a regular starting position and, for the next six games Origi had his chance to nail down the centre-forward position. This should have been the moment in which Origi established himself as the Reds’ first-choice striker for the remainder of the term. In truth, the young striker disappointed, despite a run of four goals in four games. The goals happened in spite of what was generally some poor performances by Origi. While it’s true that goals do bring home the bacon, it’s all-round performances that establish how fine a cut it is and the former Lille striker under-performed in that regard.
In his defence, it’s easy to forget that he’s still a young striker in only his second season in English football. To put it into perspective, he’s two years younger than Kevin Stewart. He’s also come a long long way since the days of being voted into Ligue 1’s worst eleven during his final year at the French club. In his early days at Anfield, Origi did look like a fish out of water. So raw he was in danger of catching salmonella. A spell on the sidelines led to enhanced upper body strength, and a new shirt size. Suddenly Origi could hold his own against bruising Premier League defences. And the goals began to arrive. Origi played direct, driving at defenders and beating them with a trick or a drop of the shoulder. He gave the footballing world glimpses as to why Liverpool went to war with Borussia Dortmund, and others, over his signature.
But now there’s nagging doubts about him. Nagging doubts as to whether he can live up to the potential that led Liverpool to pay £10 million pound for the eighteen-year old Origi back in 2014. Origi reminds me of another striker Liverpool paid around the same fee for, and arrived at a similar age, back in 1999. There’s definitely a touch of Emile Heskey about Origi. By this, I mean not necessarily the same attributes as the big Englishman, but the same pendulum-like confidence level that can swing between being unplayable on a given day, and utterly useless the next one. I fear that Origi might share the fragile self-belief that Heskey was renowned for. When Heskey left Anfield, I lost count of their number of ex-managers and players who all uttered the same regret, “I wish he had believed in himself more.”
With this in mind, it’s disconcerting to read a recent interview with his cousin, the goalkeeper Arnold Origi, in which he declares of his younger relative, “he can be the best. The only hindrance to him becoming the best is in himself.” You can read a lot into that last sentence. Origi does come across as a really nice lad. He carries himself well. Seems very polite, and says all the right things. He’s even got a nice smile. There’s nothing wrong with any of that of course, but compare how Origi plays the game to one Diego Costa. Is Costa really a better natural footballer than Origi? Not for me. Origi has a touch and technique that’s a notch above the Spaniard, but Costa does have that ironclad will to win that he’s taken from the streets onto pitches all around the world. He’ll do whatever it takes to put the ball in the back of the net. Origi, by comparison, has the body language of somebody who would not.
You might think I’m being harsh on the young Belgian. However, we can surely all agree that he’s a frustrating player for sure. Frustrating in the sense that he’s briefly demonstrated attributes that can decimate top European defenders. It’s hard to get your head around how a player who can lead Mats Hummels on a merry dance can later get no change out of a League Two defence such as Plymouth Argyle’s – twice, and in fact look to be at about their level.
Origi’s best quality is probably his technique. At times, he can run with the ball and it appears as though he’s somehow managed to weld it to his toes. It’s glorious. He has outrageous skills in some tight situation and he’s a decent finisher. When really on song, he has a lovely knack of finding the corner of the net, particularly when he cuts in from the left and wraps his foot around the ball. But you need more. You need more if you want to lead the line for Liverpool Football Club. His pace is quick, but not as rapid as you might have hoped. He’s a target at 6’2, but not particularly dominant in the air. Not like he should be. He can press the ball okay, but only to an extent whereby you really appreciate Roberto Firmino more. His link-up play is decent, but he’s liable to lose concentration and give the ball away in a dangerous position. This can cost the team, such as what happened with Bournemouth’s breakaway second goal in that 4-3 defeat.
With Klopp reportedly on the lookout in the summer for a new striker, perhaps one that can operate central and out wide the natural assumption would be that this means curtains for Daniel Sturridge, and not Origi. But perhaps both of them might be unpacking their suitcases somewhere else next season. If I were a betting man, I’d wager the odds to be in Origi’s favour to stay, but while I think that he’ll probably get another chance to prove himself at Liverpool, I certainly don’t believe it’s a given. He has a manager in Klopp who while no doubt warm and cuddly on the outside, possesses a ruthless streak that would make a hangman blush. Go back and check how many players got shipped out of Dortmund in the first couple of years of his reign. There’s no guarantees that Klopp will forgive Origi a season of what we can all agree has been stagnation. Divock Origi can change this for the season still has a third of the way to go. But he shouldn’t be taking anything for granted.