They come in peace. Or that’s what they want you to believe, until you’re mollycoddled into a false sense of security, and then ZAP! PEW! PEW! PEW! AAARGH! BOOM! That’s precisely how a Raumdeuter goes about his business. Looking relatively uninterested, and unassuming, loitering all over the pitch, almost in a leisurely stupor, and then out of nowhere, he teleports himself into the box, and gets himself at the end of another cross to head home, or deal another side-foot finish into the bottom corner from 10 yards. That’s it, you’re done for. The space invader has located your weakness. The drone will send for his cavalry, and the invasion will ensue.
The Raumdeuter (German for Space Investigator), is one of the most unquantifiable players in the modern game, as so far there has been only one in recent memory – Germany’s, inimitable Thomas Mueller. The 27-year-old is one of the hardest players to mark in world football, despite having no apparent calling card in terms of technique, or power. Midfielder, striker? He’s neither of the either. In fact, if he had a calling card, it’d be left blank. Frictionless, the immediate aura around him exhibits the properties of invisible axle grease, slipping past unnoticed, unattended for yet another goal.
Liverpool too, have with them a wormhole merchant in their ranks, their very own Raumdeuter. Jürgen Klopp knows infinitely, while the Anfield faithful are slowly beginning to realise the sheer unquantifiable virtues of Roberto Firmino. Brazilian bravado shrouded in German efficacy, Bob, is the sort of player that hangs about the fringes of the frame of your television, like a phantasm hanging in a corner of your room, at the very edge of your peripheral vision, a perpetual blur, until he stops being one. When that happens, it’s the producer in the control room barking into his earpiece to direct the feed to camera three placed near the goal line, where Bob is seen reeling away in celebration of another close-range finish. Almost taking off his shirt in celebration, but then stopping himself.
With the ball at his feet, his bobblehead head on a pin, looks around, incessantly. At the edge of the box, it seems almost pointless to close Bob down, as he’d slip the ball square, or lay it off for an onrushing team-mate, regardless. Then with quiet disdain for your existence, make a threatening run into the box, where you’re placed in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t predicament. You have a split second to decide whether you allow to bait yourself and follow Bob, or let the player who now has the ball at his feet, cut in. There will be two distinct possibilities by this point. One, the player plays in Bob for the goal, or he, himself takes the shot on, seeing you stand off.
How do you defend against someone who wasn’t there, where he wasn’t supposed to be, a second ago? Roberto Firmino is the footballing equivalent of a switchblade knife, a ninja, a racoon, a malicious cross-web background script and a space invader; and in this Jürgen Klopp set-up, perhaps their most influential attacking player. The best part is, it doesn’t matter if the opponents begin to wise up enough to realise it – they can’t stop what they don’t see coming.