Divock Origi calls it his “resource” – a memory bank of highs and lows that is extensive for a 22-year-old and drawn upon regularly. It contains a World Cup emergence offset by European Championship torment, a leading role at Liverpool snatched away by injury and now, as Jürgen Klopp’s team inch towards Champions League qualification, fierce and occasionally unforgiving scrutiny. It allows Origi to handle the emptiness of a bad day at the office and will, he insists, aid his development into a world-class striker. It also reflects his fascination with the workings of the mind.
Origi is fluent in four languages. “That’s not bad,” he admits, modestly. He learned Swahili and English in the family home (his father, Mike, played 120 times for Kenya and enjoyed a successful club career in Belgium), Flemish growing up in Ostend and French after signing for Lille aged 15. He reads three books a month “sometimes in English, sometimes in Dutch and mostly about psychology. Maybe if I wasn’t a footballer I’d be a psychologist.” And he is not averse to bringing his hobby into work.
“I’m very interested in how the brain works and the different personality types,” he explains. “I get my friends to do personality tests and I see what type they resemble. At Liverpool I can say who is an introvert and who is an extrovert. We have both. I started to study psychology but had to stop when I got into the first team. I’m still really interested and watch a lot of TED TV, where people speak for 15 minutes about how they communicate or the subjects they study. Maybe when my career is over I’ll go back to it, you never know.”
It did not require an amateur psychologist to gauge what was on Liverpool minds following Sunday’s goalless draw with Southampton. Klopp’s forward line was criticized for failing to break through overtly defensive opponents as Liverpool failed to win a third consecutive home game. Sadio Mané’s absence with a knee injury was again telling with pace and fluidity missing in the final third and Origi, as the Senegal international’s replacement, attracted much of the flak.
A fit-again Daniel Sturridge threatens Origi’s starting role at West Ham United on Sunday but, after he spent the majority of the season on the bench as Mané, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino led the Champions League pursuit, it was always a difficult ask for a striker with Origi’s different attributes to fit seamlessly into the attack.
“Difficult is a big word,” he says on his transition from the bench. “It is different. For a big part of the season the team played with the same front three and it is different if I’m in the middle from when Roberto is there. I’m lucky that we have so many quality, intelligent players who can go deep, come to the ball, pass, score; but it is different. I think I’ve had some good games and some less good games. It is important for me now to play and to get more consistency. The more you play with the other players the more you understand them and they understand you, and that’s very important.”
Unsurprisingly, given his cerebral nature and high ambitions, the off days linger with Origi whether they occur on a match day or in training at Melwood. He admits: “When you are a footballer you eat, sleep and breathe football. If I have a bad training session I can go home and do whatever I want but you still feel an emptiness. The one thing you want to do is play and perform good. Even after a training session when you don’t play as you wanted to, you go to sleep and when you wake up the morning isn’t the same. You played badly, you feel an emptiness. But I think whenever I’ve had a less good period I’ve come out of it stronger. You analyse even more what you didn’t do well, you start focusing more on the things you can do better and you push yourself to improve.”
It is then that Origi delves into his invaluable resource. Just as Liverpool’s tally of 70 points and position above both Manchester clubs and Arsenal can be overlooked in the aftermath of a disappointment such as Southampton, so the young striker’s contribution and experience are worth considering amid the tension of the Champions League race. Origi has made more appearances in all competitions for Liverpool this season than any other player – 41 – and with 10 goals he has reached double figures for the second time since arriving from France in 2015.
Belgium’s youngest World Cup goalscorer says: “At Lille I played one season there as the No9 who was leading the team, and that was a hard time, then I played in the World Cup quarter-finals as a 19-year-old main striker, played big games in the Europa League, had less good moments, injuries, going to the Euros and not playing – all of these things are now coming together and giving me a resource to go back to. It is not the same as when I was 20 and it’s more like playing off excitement.”
It is only 13 months since Origi made himself indispensable to Klopp with a series of outstanding performances, not least home and away against Borussia Dortmund in an epic Europa League quarter-final. A starting role beckoned in a European final for his club and a European Championship for his country until an appalling foul by Everton’s Ramiro Funes Mori damaged the striker’s ankle ligaments. Both the injury and the defeat by Sevilla, one that cost Liverpool a ticket to this season’s Champions League, strengthened Origi’s resolve before this campaign.
“For me at the time it was a hit,” says Origi of the Funes Mori foul, one he recovered from in time to make the bench in Basel. “I worked so hard off and on the pitch. I could see every game that I was working better – the Stoke game, Dortmund and then the derby. Sometimes you need a bit of luck but I could see things I had been working on starting to come off and at that time there was even talk in Belgium of me being the main striker going into the Euros. The Europa League final was coming up too. I was close to achieving a very big thing but then the injury comes. These are things you cannot predict.
“I wanted to do everything I could to be involved in the final but I still had problems with the ankle. The ankle was still shaky when I went to the Euros so I needed time to recover but the people closest to me were very supportive. I am also a religious person and these things made me stronger. If I look back now, I am sure I am not far from reaching that level again. I think I am definitely stronger than I was last year because of this experience. For the club it was very disappointing to reach two finals and lose them both but we came into this season knowing we had fewer games and had to use this to our advantage and try for the Champions League. We all have big ambitions as players and as a club Liverpool always has to think big. We will give everything to make it happen in the next two games.”
The Champions League represents the next step in the development of Klopp’s Liverpool. On an individual level the target is equally clear in Origi’s eyes. “For me it is simply to be a world-class striker,” he says without arrogance. “I know it is a hard road but I am already in a big club, I know how it works, I’m already in my second year and I have the experience of the Euros and the World Cup. I have performed in big games, had less good periods, I have the experience of playing as a No9 for Liverpool and having the weight and pressure of a really big club on you. In the first six months these are all things that hit you hard but in the end it helps you. I am only 22 and I have processed all these moments and they will help me to reach my goal.”