Lutz Pfannenstiel headed up the Bundesliga club’s scouting network when the hard-working frontman was signed and always expected him to flourish
Roberto Firmino may not get the goals of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at Liverpool but he is the “perfect fit” for Jurgen Klopp and the real “MVP” at Anfield, says Lutz Pfannenstiel.
That has been the case throughout the 28-year-old’s career to date, with his willingness to do dirty work for the benefit of the greater good having made him a valuable asset wherever he has been.
It was Pfannenstiel who brought the South American to Europe, as he headed up Hoffenheim’s scouting network at the time of a 2011 deal.
Firmino was then sold to Liverpool for £29 million ($38m) four years later and, since Klopp inherited the reins from Brendan Rodgers, he has enjoyed remarkable success on Merseyside.
Pfannenstiel, who is held in the highest regard within the German football industry and is currently head of sports at Fortuna Dusseldorf, told Goal and SPOX of Firmino: “He was recommended to us by the agency ROGON. ROGON has one of the best networks in Brazil.
“With Carlos Eduardo and Luiz Gustavo, they had already brought two top players to Hoffenheim. I had seen Firmino play before, but I didn’t know his name.
“Roberto played in Santa Catarina, just like me [as an active player]. I saw him there as a teenager. The youth games were mostly one day before ours. He stood out in the Campeonato Catarinense (State Championship of Santa Catarina). But at the time, I wasn’t a scout. I was a goalkeeper.
“As a youth Roberto did not play for any national team. He was a blank slate because he played in Brazil with the second division team Figueirense. After the scouting analysis, it was clear that he was special. It was an important step for the club.
“Roberto is originally from north eastern Brazil. Maceio is a tough city, a social hotspot. He was lucky to come to Santa Catarina. Everything there is very European, very Italian and German. That’s why Figueirense was the perfect intermediate step for him.
“Nevertheless, he had the normal start-up difficulties that most South Americans have. He came to Hoffenheim at the age of 19 as a slim boy, could not speak German. But during this time, his special character came to light. He worked a lot more than most, always doing extra shifts on the pitch or in the weights room and developing physically very quickly. He had the unconditional will.
“He combined the best of both football philosophies [Brazil and German]: a lot of work without the ball, discipline and Brazilian enthusiasm. He got better and better.
“It was completely understandable that the move to a top club would follow at some point. That it then became Liverpool and that he later got a coach like Jurgen Klopp who had a clear plan with him is like winning the lottery.
“Everyone always talks about the goals of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, but for me Firmino is the MVP of the team. How he finds gaps and works backwards – that’s the perfect fit.”