This article was originally for subscribers of The Tomkins Times (here).
When will we learn, eh? Well, most of you reading this don’t need to learn, but large swathes of the wider fanbase certainly do; when will fans accept that young players usually take time to settle, as do players coming to England from overseas, so when a new signing ticks both boxes maybe they deserve a little leeway?
September 23rd 2015. Liverpool are struggling to get past Carlisle United of League Two in the Capital One Cup. Divock Origi, a twenty year old Belgian who has recently joined the squad (having been officially signed a year earlier) comes off the bench in the 34th minute to replace another new signing, Roberto Firmino, to make just his third appearance for the club. A search of Twitter suggests he wasn’t doing too well (and I stuck to a fairly mild swear word; far worse versions of this are available)…
Granted, people say things in the heat of a match that they ultimately don’t mean, but surely a young lad who has just joined the team deserves more patience than this? Don’t all of our players warrant support anyway (though that’s a debate for a different article)?
Of course, Origi was damned from the start in the eyes of many thanks to L’Equipe putting him in their team of the worst players in Ligue 1 last season.
Never mind that most Kopites will have hardly seen him play; a rating from a website they don’t read carries so much more weight, for some inexplicable reason. Whilst the stats alone will never tell the full story, I thought I’d take a quick look to see how Origi actually did last season.
In Ligue 1 in 2014/15, there were 79 players who played in an attacking-midfield or forward position for at least nineteen games (so half of the season). Excluding penalties, Origi scored six goals, or 0.3 per game; he was joint-26th in the above group on a goals per game basis, and joint 24th for total non-penalty goals. On a minutes per goal basis he was a little lower, at 37th, but is that record worthy of being deemed one of the worst two strikers in the division?
Not in my book. Now in fairness it’s probably not a record to send pulses racing either, but when you consider that Origi logged nine non-penalty goals and assists in the league last season, and cost £10m, yet Anthony Martial only got two more but could cost up to £58m, I think he should’ve been viewed as very decent potential at a reasonable price, and his performances judged accordingly.
He won’t have been helped by joining a team low on confidence with a manager who had lost the support of a large chunk of the fanbase, and it certainly took him a while to get going. As the season moved into December, whilst he had logged an assist in the home draw with Sion, he hadn’t got on the score sheet as the campaign approached it’s half way point.
I don’t get to many games, but I was fortunate enough to be at Southampton as the Reds won a League Cup quarter final in fabulous style, 6-1. Truth be told, from the other end of the ground none of us realised he’d scored his first when he got a toe to Moreno’s shot as the first half drew to a close, but we certainly knew all about his second goal after the break.
When he completed a perfect hat-trick with a header before the end, it sealed a marvellous performance from the young man. Maybe he’d have developed well in time this season regardless, but it seems like that was the night when he thought ‘I am good enough for this league’ and he’s been largely unstoppable since; from the start of that game onwards, he has scored or assisted a goal every 97 minutes that he has been on the pitch (albeit scoring three in the first ninety obviously helps that somewhat!).
He has been a little lucky with some of his goals (e.g. a deflection against Dortmund, a cross that went in against Stoke) but he has earned that via a string of impressive performances, and he has provided the thankless hard running up front that the likes of Christian Benteke and Daniel Sturridge are simply unwilling (or more likely unable) to do, so it’s easy to see why Jürgen Klopp has taken such a shine to Origi.
His link up and assist for Sturridge at Southampton in the league gave a tantalising glimpse of how the duo could work as a pair, and perhaps it’s something we’ll see more of next season if (as we all surely hope) Sturridge stays, and stays fit. They haven’t played together that much this season, as one of the pair has often been subbed on/off for the other, and it’s interesting how earlier in the season it was Origi replacing Sturridge but as the younger man’s performances have improved, it’s now often the other way around, with the Belgian starting the bigger games when fit.
They may have only spent 354 minutes together on the pitch, but in that time they’ve scored six goals between them (at a rate of one every 59 minutes) and the Reds as a whole have bagged eleven (one every 32 minutes). It’s a small sample but one which suggests a potentially bright future for the fledgling partnership.
To finish, a look at some simple goal and assist stats from across the Premier League this season. I’ve included the Premier League’s top 22 for minutes per non-penalty goals and assists (for players with a minimum of ten in total) plus some other Liverpool players who have done well, and a Liverpool old boy to bottom the table out. It’s vital to remember that the sample size for Origi is far smaller than for the other players listed here, but…
It’s all hypothetical of course, but if Sturridge and Origi had both played even half of the possible minutes this season whilst maintaining their goal contribution rates, then they’d have contributed to another thirteen goals between them.
The excitement shown by fans when he made the bench for the Europa League final shows just how far he’s come this season since those dark days against Carlisle. I won’t be going overboard on Origi based on his small sample of Premier League action to date, but he’s certainly set the scene for a very interesting 2016/17 indeed.