Divock Origi was 19 years old when he became Belgium’s youngest every goalscorer at a World Cup, and had a baby dolphin named after him.
He had come off the bench against Algeria in their first group match in Brazil and though he did not score Belgium did twice to come from behind to win. A few days later, he was on from the bench again with half-an-hour to go and his country unable to find a way past Russia.
With two minutes remaining, Origi dribbled forty yards, passed to Eden Hazard, ran into the box then took a clever step back. When Hazard returned the ball, he finished with an accuracy that he is still known for on Liverpool’s training ground.
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It wasn’t exactly Michael Owen against Argentina in France ‘98. But the next day, the Boudewijn Seapark, in Bruge, welcomed their first baby dolphin — from 29-year-old mother Roxanne — in 11 years and named it after the man predicted to be Belgium’s next star.
Turning down Manchester United
He had long been talked about. Origi was 15 years old, a nine-year veteran of Genk’s academy already by then, when he came home from school and his parents sat him down to discuss an offer from Manchester United.
They had an idea where they wanted him to go, but said he should decide, so Origi spent a day thinking about it. He opted for Lille, having watched Hazard leave Belgium and make a name for himself there. And he was also a fan of Joe Cole and Gervinho. He felt he would have a chance there.
And he did. The month after he scored that World Cup goal, Liverpool made an approach and he moved for £10m. He was hot property: Jurgen Klopp tried to sign him for Borussia Dortmund, but he always wanted to play in the Premier League and he was not about to spurn the opportunity twice. He felt ready.
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Only, since then, Origi hasn’t really moved on from that player who comes off the bench and scores important goals. Perhaps now is the time to seek games if he wants to become anything more than an unusual cult figure.
Origi will forever be in remembered in Liverpool folklore, of course.
He started and starred in that historic Champions League night at Anfield against Barcelona, although only because Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah were injured. Still, he delivered two vital goals in an improbable comeback. One in the seventh minute to inject what can be the cruellest of drugs into an Anfield crowd desperately craving that hit of hope, and then the tie winner in the 79th minute, inducing that melt-back-into-the-sofa-as-the-needle-drops-to-the-floor moment.
It was some finish, too. Trent Alexander-Arnold with that quick-thinking corner and then Origi, the only player on the pitch thinking as quickly, set himself to sweep it first-time into the top left corner.
That’s the thing with Origi — he’s known for how good his finishing is. His teammates see it everyday. “Ridiculous” is the way James Milner described it after the Champions League final.
But then Origi was back to his place on the bench for the final, replaced by a half-fit Firmino who he replaced in the 58th minute to secure the trophy — still not a given at that stage — in the 87th minute, with another tidy finish. Had Spurs got that second goal then they could well have gone on to win it, because they played much better for most of the second half.
Salah and Sadio Mane are two of the best forwards in the world right now. But should Firmino — while excellent — necessarily be guaranteed a place ahead of Origi? The Belgian showed against Barcelona, when he was finally given a whole match to show it, how good he is at holding the ball up and holding on to the ball just long enough in those attacks to let teammates flow around him.
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“Those three guys, he pushes them in training,” Milner added, referencing Mane, Salah and Firmino. But at 24 years old he is running out of time to be anything but the player who makes his teammates work harder.
Look at Raheem Sterling, only four months older but seemingly a decade ahead in development; a leading player already for club and country.
Much more, surely, would also have been made of Origi’s late winner against Newcastle in the final weeks of the Premier League season — again, from the bench, in the 73rd minute — had Manchester City slipped up and Liverpool not lost the title by one point.
After the Champions League final, supporters on social media were branding him “King Origi” and calling for a statue to be erected in his name by the time he landed back in Liverpool on the flight from Madrid.
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They were not unkind and they were light-hearted, but they were jokes nonetheless. With only a year remaining on his contract, if Origi wants to become the player the Boudewijn Seapark always thought he would, he will likely need to try to become a star elsewhere.