A shortly after Liverpool lifted the Premier League trophy at an almost empty but electrified Anfield in July 2020, ending that 30-year wait for the title, something caught the eye of observers inside of the ground. All the players and staff had gone into the tunnel before only one suddenly reappeared: Divock Origi. He walked to the center circle and, in the middle of the ticker, put his arms behind his back and fixed his gaze on the Kop. It was a curious sight but also, it seemed, telling – it was the Belgian’s way of saying goodbye to him.
If that was a goodbye, it was a long one as it is only now, almost two years later, that Origi is leaving Liverpool, with the club announcing on Thursday that the striker will leave when his contract expires. end of the month. Milan, recently crowned Serie A champions, would be his next destination.
“A truly special journey, with iconic moments in our history delivered by @DivockOrigi time and time again… Thank you for everything,” read a tweet from the Liverpool Twitter account. This follows the guard of honor Origi received after the victory over Wolves on the final day of the Premier League campaign, when he not only received applause from his team-mates but also gifts from the leaders of the Premier League. club, whose owner John W Henry, while those in the stands vigorously chanted his name. All in all, it’s pretty complicated for everyone, let alone a team’s sixth-choice striker.
But then Liverpool have always been a place where cult heroes are cherished, from Joey Jones and David Fairclough to Djimi Traore and Lucas Leiva, and it’s safe to say none have done so little but so much like Origi. Far from a great goalscorer – there were just 41 in 175 appearances in his eight years on Merseyside – but undeniably a scorer of great goals, including three of the most famous in club history. This goal against Everton, this goal against Barcelona, this goal against Tottenham. No wonder Liverpool’s Twitter account went on to describe Origi as a “Legendon Thursday, which Jürgen Klopp has also done on more than one occasion.
The first time was to a room full of journalists ahead of his side’s Champions League meeting with Genk in November 2019 and as a retort after a reporter failed to mention Origi while spouting the names of the players who went through the academy of the Belgian club. Kevin De Bruyne is the star and although Origi is not at his level, and never will be, the fact that he has represented Liverpool and helped win six trophies including the Premier League and Champions League , is a source of great pride there.
“I’ve known Divock since he was born,” says Michel Ribeiro, a former Genk midfielder who is an assistant coach for the club’s first team and worked with Origi during a stint as a technical coach at their academy. “His dad, Mike, also played for Genk, so I watched Divock grow up and worked with him from when he was eight or nine until he left us. [in 2010].
“He was a fantastic kid, always in a good mood, always open to learning, and we could see from an early age that he had something special. He was one of the best prospects and the hope was that one day he would play for a big club. He did it with Liverpool, which is fantastic.
It is, underlines Ribeiro, the size of Origi combined with a great technique which marked him as a player of potential. “Divock was tall compared to the other kids, but the good thing about him was that he was not only powerful, he also had good feet. So we worked on his mobility to maximize his ability to run with the ball and dribble. He picked it up amazingly.
Those attributes were on display at the 2014 World Cup as Origi shone for Belgium, playing in all five of his games and becoming the first teenager to score at the tournament since Lionel Messi in 2006. He was 19, seemingly capable of doing it all and Liverpool’s decision to sign him for £10m later that summer seemed a smart one. “He has everything to be world class,” said then-manager Brendan Rodgers. “I sincerely believe it.”
Origi was immediately loaned out to Lille, where he had spent the previous four seasons, before properly joining Liverpool for the 2015-16 campaign. It turned out to be a tumultuous time for the club, with Rodgers sacked early and replaced by Klopp. A change of manager could have proved disastrous for Origi, but he thrived, and after scoring four times in three appearances in April, including in both legs of the epic Europa League quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund, he seemed to be establishing himself as an important part of Klopp’s plans.
Then came the Merseyside derby later that month when after scoring again, Origi suffered an ankle ligament injury after an atrocious tackle from Ramiro Funes Mori. The injury sidelined him for a month, cost him a starting spot in the Europa League final and dampened his momentum. By the following season, Origi had largely become an alternative option – from the bench or as injury cover.
Perhaps that was likely to happen anyway as Klopp strives to improve his squad. Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah arrived in successive summers and, alongside Roberto Firmino, formed one of the most exciting and devastating frontlines English football has ever seen. Origi was not on their level and it was evident every time he replaced one of the three. Suddenly Liverpool’s attacking play was less fluid, quick, imaginative and powerful.
Origi was sent out on loan again ahead of the 2017-18 season, this time to Wolfsburg, and upon his return found himself not only in the shadows but also out of position. Increasingly, he played wide rather than through the middle, so much so that in the 2019-20 title-winning campaign he featured more as a left-forward than a centre-forward – 21 times against 18 , the vast majority of those appearances as a substitute.
To some extent, Origi was a victim of the schooling he received in Genk. As Ribeiro explains, “At the academy, we always put the kids in different positions to make them as complete as possible. So Divock played as a left winger, a No.9 and a No.10, and you can see with the national team and [when he was] at Liverpool he is comfortable coming from the wing. So that’s often how it’s played.
Ribeiro goes on to describe Origi’s finish during his time at Genk as ‘OK’. That was also largely the case at Liverpool, but there’s no denying that three times in six months was much more than that.
The 96th-minute header to win the derby, the sweeping right-footed finish to complete one of the greatest comebacks in European football history and the low left-footed drive to seal that sixth European Cup n’ not only showed Origi’s range and quality of finish. but also his ability to stay cool under pressure. For fans who were at Anfield in December 2018 and May 2019 and at the Estadio Metropolitano in June 2019, there will be no forgetting the feeling when the ball hit the net. Pure ecstasy. Pure rowdiness.
“I looked at the three goals and after that of the [Champions League] in the end, I screamed like a kid because I was so euphoric,” says Ribeiro. “I actually texted Divock right after the game. To be honest, I always do – even when he plays a regular game and scores, I text him saying ‘congratulations’, ‘great goal ‘, and he always responds to say ‘thank you’. That’s exactly what he is – a fantastic kid.
But it’s also entering its peak years, and as such the desire to move on is understandable. It’s also necessary given how far Origi has come in the pecking order at Liverpool, finding himself not only behind Mané, Salah and Firmino, but also Diogo Jota and Luis Díaz. The 27-year-old also played less than Takumi Minamino last season, although a muscle injury contributed to that and it’s to Origi’s credit that when he did play he made an impact again.
There have been six goals in 18 appearances, a few of which have found their way into Origi’s catalog of memorable Liverpool strikes, including the scorpion kick against Preston, the late winner against Wolves and the header against Everton’s sixth goal in the Merseyside derbies, making him the most prolific foreign player in the game’s history.
Origi leaves Liverpool grateful for his time at the club, which is clear from the message he posted on Twitter shortly after the disappointment and horror in Paris: “It was a special trip @LFC YNWA”. However, he may well regret not reaching the heights at Anfield. A player for the big occasion but not the consistent, world-class talent that Rodgers was talking about. There were reasons for this, some beyond Origi’s control, and for a man who speaks four languages and is fascinated by human psychology, there is now the chance to experience something new and grow, both both personally and professionally.
“Divock is too good to sit on the bench every week,” Ribeiro said. “He needs to play, keep that hunger and show everyone what he can do. For me, he’s a total player.
Does Ribeiro have any final thoughts on Origi? “Not really,” he replies. “Divock knows I love him and I wish him the best.” And so, without a doubt, everyone at Liverpool.