The 2015/16 season was full of surprises for Liverpool—most notably the arrival of world-class manager Jurgen Klopp—but on the field of play, the development of 21-year-old striker Divock Origi perhaps stands as the biggest shock of the campaign.
Klopp arrived in October, taking over for the departing Brendan Rodgers, and set in motion an improvement in fortunes on Merseyside, including reaching the finals of the UEFA Europa League and the Capital One Cup.
The German has instilled a winning mentality in the club—despite defeat in both showpiece clashes and an eighth-place Premier League finish—that suggests there is success to come in the years ahead.
At the centre of this projected future glory is Origi, whose rise through the ranks under Klopp will have taken most by surprise in 2015/16.
When Liverpool sanctioned the £10 million signing of Origi from Lille in 2014, supporters were well aware of the talent the striker possessed.
Signing for the Reds directly after featuring in all five of Belgium's clashes at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, including a goalscoring display in the Red Devils' 1-0 win over Russia on their way to quarter-finals, Origi was lauded as one of Europe's brightest young prospects.
"He is very gifted and talented. Technically, he’s a monster. More importantly, he is an outstanding worker in training. I see him working like crazy," Belgian centre-back Vincent Kompany enthused, as relayed by the Liverpool Echo's Kristian Walsh.
"If he continues in this way, in a few years he will be among the five or 10 best strikers in the world."
This came as high praise from a defender who plays his club football alongside the sensational Sergio Aguero at Manchester City, and Liverpool rightly tucked their potential star away from the spotlight—returning him to Lille on a season-long loan.
But spending the 2014/15 season with the Ligue 1 side, Origi undermined his status as a future world-class striker, scoring eight goals and laying on four assists in 33 league games, and he was named in the Worst Team of the Season by French publication L'Equipe (h/t the Guardian).
Origi finally made the move to Merseyside, who had just signed compatriot Christian Benteke from Aston Villa for £32.5 million, with his confidence drained, poised to play a bit-part role under Rodgers.
While still with his best years ahead of him, Origi threatened to follow the likes of Fabio Borini and Iago Aspas through the Anfield exit.
But following Rodgers' dismissal in October, and Klopp's appointment days later, Origi was liberated, linking up with a manager who had attempted to sign him for former club Borussia Dortmund.
"I wanted to take him to Dortmund but Liverpool bought him. He is a very good player. He is young, very fast, a good technician," Klopp told the club's official website after handing Origi a starting role in October's 0-0 draw away to Tottenham Hotspur, his first game as Liverpool manager.
"At this moment, he’s not full of experience in the game because he hasn’t played so often, but we will have fun with this player, for sure."
Though limited by injuries to Benteke, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings, Klopp's sentiment, and his refined overview of Origi's talents, suggested that this was not a false promise.
Origi was afforded an increasing amount of game time under Klopp, clocking up 594 minutes on the field across the league, the Europa League and the League Cup, including a hat-trick in December's 6-1 win away to Southampton in the latter, before a troubling knee injury hampered his progress over the turn of the year.
That time on the sidelines may prove to be the making of Origi at Liverpool, however, as a run of excellent performances following his recovery revealed a new, hardened edge.
"I'm four kilos of muscle heavier after the coach told me that I should play more like a man," Origi told Belgian publication Het Laatste Nieuws (h/t the Mirror) in March, while Klopp told reporters, including the Liverpool Echo's Joe Rimmer in April, that his No. 27 had gone up a shirt size during his time away.
While Origi's displays in 2015 showcased his raw pace, defence-stretching movement and strong work ethic, 2016 saw the striker add a bullish physicality to his game; no longer was he the spry, nimble youngster threatening to emulate Sturridge in years to come—Origi had become a viable contender for a starting role.
Origi scored six goals in 17 appearances in 2016, including strikes in both legs of April's Europa League quarter-final clashes with Dortmund, starting ahead of Sturridge—a big call from Klopp that may signal Origi's bright future at Anfield.
The new-look Origi bears resemblance to Klopp's former star striker, Robert Lewandowski: the height, the power, the pace, the confidence and the agility. All he needs now is to add a cutting edge in front of goal.
That this comparison can be made should serve to highlight the surprising development Klopp oversaw in Origi throughout 2015/16, drumming into his young star a confidence that saw him shine against Dortmund, and a fine-tuned fitness regime has visibly moulded him into a complete centre-forward.
With Benteke likely to be sold this summer, according to the Guardian's Sachin Nakrani, and with Klopp showing no indication of signing another striker so far, Origi may even start the 2016/17 campaign as Liverpool's first-choice striker.
This remarkable transformation seemed unfathomable 12 months ago, with Origi serving as the positive surprise of Liverpool's season.
Statistics via Transfermarkt.co.uk.