Origi doesn’t regret rejecting Manchester United
“It is always special to play Manchester United,” Liverpool’s Divock Origi says of the Europa League draw that has brought the two northern giants together for the first time in Europe.
“I came into the Liverpool team for the first time in the away game in September and I am very motivated and excited for the next match. We are ready for the fight. I believe we can go far in this tournament.” Divock is only 20 and has not yet nailed down a place in the Liverpool starting line-up but he speaks with the quiet authority of someone who has seen a lot in football.
And he has, as it happens. He has already scored the winning goal in a World Cup game, the one against Russia in Rio to secure Belgium’s place in the second stage in 2014, earning himself recognition as the nation’s young sportsman of the year in the process and – Wikipedia factoid alert – having a baby dolphin named after him in a Bruges seapark.
Liverpool were already tracking him by then and a couple of months later he officially became the most notable product of a footballing family by signing for a Premier League club.
Born in Belgium to Kenyan parents, his father Mike was playing for Ostend at the time and later moved to Genk, while a cousin, Arnold, is a goalkeeper with Lillestrom.
So Origi already had a degree of fame in his own country even before he scored his goal at the Maracanã, though what was not commonly known was that as a 15-year-old he had turned down the chance to join Manchester United.
Not many football-mad schoolboys would do that and even fewer would cite Joe Cole as one of the reasons for staying close to home with Lille but even at that age Origi was clearly thinking deeply about his future. “It was just a decision of my heart,” he explains.
“At that moment I wanted to be a product of the Lille academy. I had just seen Eden Hazard come through and Lille had players like Gervinho and Joe Cole in the first team, so I thought I would have a good chance of making it there. I still remember coming home from school and my parents asking me to sit down because there was something they wanted to discuss. But, even though the offer was a good one, they told me I could choose.
“I didn’t have anything against Manchester United or any other team, and my dream was always to play in the Premier League one day, but my heart told me the best thing would be to stay at Lille. I had a day or so of thinking it over but in the end I believe I made a good choice.”
Naturally, when the time came to leave Lille and join the next Premier League club who showed an interest, the first thing Liverpool did was loan him back to the French club for a season.
“That wasn’t easy, because obviously when you sign for a new club you want to play for them,” he says. “But I never regret anything, I learned a lot and it made me stronger. I am here at Liverpool now and for the future, so everything has worked out well.
“In the beginning it took a while to adapt but now I am starting to see the profits. “Things went so quickly from being a sub in Lille to scoring in the World Cup to signing for Liverpool but I always had good advice from my parents and my religion to help keep me grounded. I am the younger version of my father. I try to be as normal as I can.”
Opting for Belgium and not Kenya was a break from family tradition but unlike his parents Origi did not grow up in Kenya.
“I came up through the youth ranks in Belgium so the choice was obvious and logical,” he says. Once he made the choice to join Liverpool he resisted offers from other clubs, even one from a particularly persistent German then in charge of Dortmund.
“I knew they were interested but Liverpool were very keen and I had made up my mind by then,” he says. It is just as well that Jürgen Klopp eventually turned up at Anfield then because Origi probably does not change his mind too often.
“For me this is a perfect place to grow,” he says. “The manager gives me chances, he has a lot of experience working with young players and I try to maximise all the time I get. That is my target for the rest of the season, to maximise my game time. And of course to score goals and do well against Manchester United.”
Report by The Guardian/Paul Wilson
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