On television, the reaction seemed louder than in the stadium, but there was no hiding the opinion of the home support. Losing in the Europa League to Bundesliga side Wolfsburg, a large number of fans were clearly not happy with Divock Origi’s performances.
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The Belgian forward had missed a penalty late in the second half, but Lille were already on their way out of the competition. The fans’ booing was not just about the penalty – that was just the straw that had broken the camel’s back. His return to Liverpool was on the horizon, and many of the fans believed that the young player was not doing enough while wearing their beloved jersey.
Once the January transfer window closed and it was official that Origi would finish the season at Lille, there was hope that maybe he could end his goal drought and give the fans something nice to remember him by.
Last week, the Stade Pierre Mauroy hosted its first Derby du Nord, Lille taking on neighbours RC Lens for local bragging rights. Results had gone against the away side and they were relegated before Sunday’s big game – to the relief of their supporters – meaning they wouldn’t face the humiliation of their bitter rivals sealing the final nail in the coffin.
Origi – in what would be his first and last derby in Lille’s stadium – started on the bench, but he would come on with 27 minutes to go and score the third and vital goal. Through the mist and the smoke from various flares, Origi entered the pitch to applause and cheers, and left the field a hero.
It was a stark contrast to the reaction his performances against Wolfsburg and Lyon had provoked earlier in the season. Rather than letting Origi play his way out of trouble, Lille were able to change their approach, and it would do Liverpool the world of good to follow the French club’s lead.
Brendan Rodgers and the Liverpool staff have been in constant contact with Origi during his loan spell, but while on the face of it they continued to praise the Belgian teenager, it wasn’t going the way they had hoped.
Three goals at the start of the season promised much, but eventually the pressure of being Lille’s main forward began to take its toll, as did the club’s poor form in the early half of the season.
Lille failed to juggle commitments in the Europa League with a demanding Ligue 1 season. With the defence struggling for clean sheets, more was asked of the attack, and René Girard, unable to find his best combination, looked to his young charge, but both seemed devoid of ideas.
At the start of the season, when Salomon Kalou left for the Bundesliga, Origi had made it clear he wanted the added pressure. You have to commend his confidence, but wiser heads were needed in difficult times.
Girard had called for a more experienced attacker to join the club in January, and the help would have alleviated some of the pressure on Origi’s shoulders.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) April 22, 2015
There’s no denying the talent and potential he possesses: Origi is a very strong runner, great in the air and has the ability to beat his man with both pace and power. The 19-year-old is still young, so the attributes are raw, but they are still very evident.
In the first half of the season, perhaps feeling the pressure, he would run into dead-ends, shoot when a pass was the better option, and drift into areas where he couldn’t be as effective.
A veteran striker never arrived in Lille during the transfer window, but a player whom they did recruit was 21-year-old winger, Sofiane Boufal, from Angers in Ligue 2. He has been compared to Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and the young Franco-Moroccan has quickly captured the imagination of the fans and given them a renewed sense of hope.
Origi should be very thankful for the new arrival, as it seems to have given the forward a new lease of life in the Lille attack.
At his age, with the relative lack of experience Origi had in the top flight, he shouldn’t have started every game – certainly not in a team that was struggling to find its identity.
Origi: “I can feel Rodgers has a lot of confidence in me, & that’s incredibly important. Look at the relationship Hazard has with Mourinho.”
— Viktor Fagerström (@ViktorFagerLFC) May 9, 2015
Origi: “A coach is also a mentor to you, I had that with Belgium’s manager during the WC. Now I hope for the same with Rodgers at #LFC.”
— Viktor Fagerström (@ViktorFagerLFC) May 9, 2015
Boufal’s inclusion has helped Girard move the Belgian to the bench; now the pressure is off and you can see that spark of life is back in the forward’s game.
He still has a lot to learn, but with the attention deflected towards Boufal, Origi has been able to make more of an impact with his reduced minutes, more than when the spotlight was clearly focused in his direction.
Before the winter break, out of the 16 games where he featured, Origi had started 13 times. He had scored three in just six games, but after his strike against Bastia in Week 8, the Belgian went 1,278 minutes without a goal in Ligue 1.
Since the turn of the year, Origi has started just 7 of his 15 appearances. Rather than end his drought with a tap-in, he put Rennes to the sword, scoring a hat-trick at the Stade Pierre Mauroy.
Two games later and a goal and an assist would see Lille beat Stade Reims 3-1. It was Les Dogues’ fourth win in five games and helped Origi’s team climb the table.
After starting five games in a row, Origi has been on the bench for the last four league games, playing a total of 90 minutes, but it has seen a positive change in his and the club’s fortunes and the fans are now firmly in his corner.
Against Lens, the fans gave their young striker a warm welcome when he came off the bench and he responded in kind. Using power, pace and his intelligence, Origi got in front of his man before clinically turning in Florent Balmont’s low cross.
It was a superbly taken finish, one that showed what he is able to do when he is playing with confidence.
At Anfield, Origi will look to the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho to take the pressure off during his early performances. Patience will be key as he tries to adapt to a new league and club.
The lessons are there for Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool to learn. Ask too much of a talented young forward, and Origi could struggle to satisfy the high expectations.
However, use him with intelligence, give him time to find his feet and in two or three years, Origi could become one of the best young strikers in the Premier League.