Lionel who? The night Origi overshadowed Messi and became a Liverpool cult hero

The piano-playing Belgium international was the Reds’ unlikely match-winner as they beat Barcelona to reach the Champions League final

Lionel Messi did not even glance at his inquisitors.

Barcelona’s captain, the world’s greatest player, wore a look of utter disbelief as he was ushered through the Anfield mixed zone. No questions, no words, no eye contact.

Who could blame him?

This was supposed to be Messi’s year, the year he led his team back to the top of the European tree. Four years without a Champions League final is a lifetime for a club like Barca, for a player like Messi. This was to be the year. It had to be. He promised it would be.

For once though, Messi was rendered powerless. He reckoned without Anfield and its remarkable, inexplicable powers. He reckoned without Liverpool and their collection of heroes, stepping up and delivering for their club and their manager and their supporters.

He reckoned without Divock Origi, the Reds’ unlikely match-winner. 

The Belgian’s brace, sandwiching a pair of Gini Wijnaldum strikes, sent Liverpool through in the most incredible circumstances. They will be in Madrid next month, taking on Ajax or Tottenham. They are the competition favorites. Who would have imagined that a week ago?

Who would have imagined that it would be Origi who would fire them to the final? A year ago, the Belgium international was battling relegation from the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg. He scored nine goals on loan in Germany, where his performances rarely lifted above average. 

He would have been sold to Wolves in the summer had he fancied the move, and he started this season with Liverpool’s under-23 team. He didn’t particularly impress there either, to be honest.

Look at him now. The toast of Merseyside, the hero of the hour. Derby winner, Newcastle saviour, semi-final star. Funny old game, eh?

Origi’s story is a remarkable one, a tale of perseverance and of circumstance, of good fortune and self-belief. Like so many in this Liverpool squad, the 24-year-old has been knocked and doubted. He has been written off and he has struggled. And here he is, still fighting, still scoring. He is some character.

This was just his sixth start of the season, an emergency measure brought about by injuries to Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita. Origi, like Xherdan Shaqiri, would never have expected to start a game of such importance, but when you get a chance all you can do is try to take it. Job done.

He has got six goals now. Only Salah, Firmino, Sadio Mane and James Milner have more. He broke Everton hearts in December, he kept the Premier League title race going at St James’ Park on Saturday and now he has slain Barcelona. He is the bit-part player who has been thrust into centre-stage.

He is a popular figure at Melwood, Origi. He is a keen piano player who spends his spare time watching documentaries and learning languages. He idolises Thierry Henry and Karim Benzema, among others, and can spend hours watching videos of strikers, their runs and their finishes. Privately, Reds staff have encouraged him to be himself more instead of looking at others.

He can be himself now. Now, he has a chance to emulate his heroes by collecting European football’s biggest prize.

He probably will not start the final, of course. Firmino and Salah should be back by then.

But if Liverpool need him in Madrid, he’ll be ready.

After all, if you can upstage Messi on a stage like this, you can do anything.


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