Sinsheim - Having turned out for VfB Stuttgart, current Brazil coach Dunga knows south-western Germany very well indeed, and in some ways, then, it is surprising that TSG 1899 Hoffenheim star Roberto Firmino had to wait so long to earn a place in the Brazil squad.
From breakthrough act to household name
It is somewhat appropriate, however, that his first-ever Brazil call-up, ahead of the five-time FIFA World Cup winners' friendly matches against Austria and Turkey, comes at the end of a calendar year in which Firmino has been one of the Bundesliga's shining stars.
Firmino shot to international prominence in 2013/14 during a campaign littered with stunning performances. The attacking midfielder not only netted 16 goals over the course of the campaign but also provided a phenomenal 12 assists to end up with the award of bundesliga.com's breakthrough player of the season. Such a return unsurprisingly made Hoffenheim keen to tie him down to a new contract, which they duly did, Firmino committing to the club until 2017.
Both were to precede his biggest achievement of the year: a call-up to the best-known national team on the planet. “I always look for the call-ups,” he told Brazilian newspaper Globo. “But this time it’s true, I didn’t look! I wanted to run, scream and yell in the house - it’s a dream come true. This is really important [for me] and it's amazing.”
Never lost hope
It was indeed cause for a double celebration in the Firmino family home in Maceio, on the shores of the Atlantic, when the news was revealed. “It was my father’s birthday, too,” the Sinsheim schemer added. “José Roberto turned 53 and then I got the call. I always had hope.” It has been five years since Firmino left home, heading for Hoffenheim and the south-west of Germany at the age of 18 after a single season with Figueirense Futebol Clube. “The Brazilian fans didn't get to know me but they'll meet a cheerful guy, full of laughter, someone who is serious on the pitch and a fighter, that great quality of all Brazilians.”
In the game following his call-up, a DFB Cup second round tie , Firmino ran riot as if to celebrate and vindicate his nomination, creating two goals and scoring two more himself, one a remarkable, and typically Brazilian, overhead kick. “We always said that Roberto has everything necessary to be called up to the Selecao,“ said Hoffenheim’s sporting director Alexander Rosen. “We’re obviously delighted for him and welcome his call-up as a reward for everyone’s hard work at the club.”
The icing on the cake
Not that Firmino himself is under any illusions as to the role his team-mates have played in his rise to superstardom. “National team call-ups come as a result of hard work with your club,“ he told Bild. “If we play well here, we’ll all interest our national team coaches.” To that end, Hoffenheim and their diminutive Brazilian have started 2014/15 impressively, accruing 17 points and rising to fifth after only 11 games, while Firmino himself has three goals and three assists under his belt already.
He certainly looks settled with Hoffenheim and with Brazil for the foreseeable future, which is a good thing for all concerned. After all, he’s due to become a father in December, which might just be the icing on the cake after a year he’ll never forget.