First things first, Liverpool’s pursuit of the 19-year-old Belgium forward Divock Origi isn’t based solely on his World Cup performances, even if most of our perceptions of him are.
As tweeted by the Belgian journalist Kristof Terreur a month before the tournament in Brazil began, the Reds have been watching Lille’s teenage forward for some time. He was registering on their radar long before the replaced a struggling Romelu Lukaku before the hour mark in the group-stage wins over Algeria and Russia, scoring a late winner in the latter.
Origi played for half an hour against South Korea, too, leading many to claim that he should be starting Tuesday night’s mammoth meeting with the USA in Salvador. Belgium coach Marc Wilmots, as per this Sports Illustrated piece from Jonathan Wilson, clearly disagrees. When asked if he’ll start against the US Wilmots replied: “No! I'm not blind. His body isn't ready yet.”
Lukaku, too, has been at pains to play down the hype surrounding his teenage teammate. “When I left the field the defence was tired,” he said after one of those aforementioned group stage wins, again as per the Wilson piece in SI. “It was easier for Divock. He had a good game but it was less of a test for him.”
In other words: “You’re not having my starting spot.”
Another teammate, Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen, has been more effusive in his praise of the son of a former Kenya international forward, perhaps because he’s not directly competing for a place with him.
“Origi has the qualities to play for a good team in the Premier League. I think he shows it every game. He has come on and changed games for us,” the defender told Sky Sports, before going on to compare Origi’s approach to football to that of Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj, another member of the Belgian squad and one who enjoyed his breakthrough Premier League season in 2013/14.
Where does all that leave us then? Probably looking at a player who we’ve heard far more about in the past three weeks than we have done for his entire career, a career which only saw a competitive senior debut as recently as 17 months ago.
Tony Barrett, an authority on Liverpool news, and Julien Laurens, an expert on French football, have both tweeted that Origi now stands on the verge of completing his move to Anfield, with the suggestion being that the 19-year-old will then be loaned back to Lille for a year to continue his development.
That seems all well and good, but with this month’s Luis Suarez-related drama seeming certain to focus on the forward possibly moving to Barcelona, are Liverpool really in a strong enough position to choose to overlook one of the brightest young World Cup talents for 12 months?
Whatever happens with Suarez will happen. Liverpool fans have long since given up trying to second-guess their Uruguayan forward.
Whether or not his World Cup bite, the subsequent global meltdown and his eventual, delayed apology have anything to do with a move to the Nou Camp remains to be seen—although that is certainly the suggestion from Sam Wallace in The Independent—but if he is to leave, then wouldn’t keeping hold of Origi make sense?
Indeed, you could argue that the Belgian should be retained at Anfield even if Suarez sticks around, or if a world-renowned superstar forward was to come in as a direct replacement for him—something you’d feel that Liverpool would have to do if the momentum they built up from last season’s exploits isn’t to stall.
With Iago Aspas having failed to cut it in England, Luis Alberto loaned to Malaga and Victor Moses sent back to Chelsea, the amount of attacking resources at Anfield has dwindled. There is now Rickie Lambert, but you sense that he’s been signed with very specific ideas in mind.
Playing in four competitions—and crucially expected to do well in all of them—will be a gruelling slog for a Liverpool squad who had one specific goal in mind last season, and so getting plenty of resources on board is key this summer.
Brendan Rodgers has shown that he will put faith in youngsters such as Raheem Sterling, Jon Flanagan and others, so then why not Origi?
He shouldn’t enter Anfield with the expectation of being the new Suarez, but if there has to be a new Suarez this summer, then he could be kept around for valuable backup, and the same goes if the old Suarez is still around, too. The latter has a ban to serve, as you may recall.
Origi is, as his name suggests, an original. Calling him the new anything will be counterproductive.
Keeping him at Liverpool—at least for the first half of the season—won’t be though, and could allow this World Cup rough diamond to sparkle under the guidance of a boss who will protect him.
As with everything else in this and other summers though, all of this seems to depend on the man in Liverpool’s No. 7 shirt, and crucially the advisors around him.
It is nice to know that there is Liverpool life away from Planet Suarez though, a life that should include the exciting talents of Origi sooner rather than later.