There won’t be a dry eye in the house on Saturday when Liverpool host Aston Villa in their final home game of the season, as Kopites bid farewell to four players that helped them win the lot.
The club confirmed earlier this week that James Milner, Naby Keita, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would all be joining Roberto Firmino in leaving the Reds at the end of their contracts this summer. Meanwhile, in their official club statement, Liverpool revealed that ‘special acknowledgements will be paid to the quartet at Anfield, with further tributes to follow across the club’s digital platforms after the end of the season’.
Having seen Gini Wijnaldum and Divock Origi both gifted copies of ‘The Champions Wall’, and the Belgian also receiving a compilation of his greatest moments in Red signed by his team-mates, you’d imagine Liverpool’s latest departing quartet will be granted something similar.
READ MORE: Pep Guardiola is impressed by Jurgen Klopp’s new Liverpool tactic
READ MORE: FA release contents of ‘lengthy letter’ Liverpool sent about Mohamed Salah treatment
But they are also set to be afforded something that has been lacking for so many players in this era of modern Reds legends – the chance to say a proper goodbye with one final appearance at Anfield in front of a full crowd.
Admittedly, it would be a surprise if Keita or Oxlade-Chamberlain took to the field against Aston Villa. The Guinean hasn’t featured since being withdrawn at half-time following a disastrous first-half display against Crystal Palace back in February, with an injury suffered during the March international break ensuring he has been absent from team training ever since.
Meanwhile, Oxlade-Chamberlain hasn’t made the Liverpool matchday squad since coming on as a substitute in the Reds’ 4-1 defeat at Man City at the start of April. In his absence, Jurgen Klopp’s side have gone on a nine-game unbeaten run to reignite their slim Champions League qualification hopes.
But, all being well, it should be a different story for Firmino and Milner, with the Liverpool vice-captain fit and available, having made an impressive 41 appearances this season despite now being 37 years of age. Such a total is only beaten by seven members of the Reds squad.
As for the Brazilian, he hasn’t featured since Liverpool’s 6-1 thrashing of Leeds United last month because of injury, but he did return to team training earlier this week. His mammoth serenading session from the travelling away fans at Leicester City on Monday night, with the forward only watching on as a spectator, is just a glimpse of this reception he will receive, whatever his role, at Anfield on Saturday.
“We’re saying goodbye to four legends within their own right, in different ways and different stories,” Andy Robertson would admit earlier this week.
Firmino and Milner have made more appearances under Jurgen Klopp than any other player during his entire managerial career (353 and 321 respectively). While injuries have ultimately stopped Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain from being as prominent for the Reds, all four players will still depart Anfield having won the Champions League, Premier League, FIFA Club World Cup, European Super Cup, League Cup, FA Cup, and Community Shield.
This season might have been a disappointment for Liverpool, but it has still been a golden era for the club over the past five years. And as the club gets ready to bid farewell to their latest departing modern legends, Anfield will get a chance to pay thanks to Firmino, Milner, Keita, and Oxlade-Chamberlain with a fitting tribute both on and off the pitch.
It’s not something many others have been able to experience when leaving the Reds in recent years. While Origi was given a guard of honour for his own farewell against Wolves last May, injury ruled him out of taking part in the game and he would also miss the Champions League final.
Meanwhile, Sadio Mane might have known that he was leaving Liverpool behind, but he hadn’t publicly confirmed his plans when he took to the Anfield turf for the last time. While he would at least score against Wolves in that final home game, he would depart for Bayern Munich in June after multiple teases and hints either side of the Champions League final.
Likewise, while suspected, it wasn’t known that domestic cup hero Takumi Minamino would be leaving the Reds last summer either. Scoring in his final appearance away at Southampton, he watched on as an unused substitute against Wolves, and for the Champions League final, with his final Anfield outing before his switch to Monaco in June actually coming when he scored a brace against Norwich City in the FA Cup in early March.
Of course, the trio weren’t the first players to be denied a send-off on and off the pitch, with a number of former team-mates also forced to exit quietly without enjoying a true farewell.
Emre Can was introduced late on for the 2018 Champions League final, knowing full well it was his farewell appearance, but injury had denied him both a proper Anfield send-off and major Kiev contribution in the weeks before.
Meanwhile, Daniel Sturridge and Alberto Moreno were left sitting unused as the Reds won the Champions League against Tottenham 12 months later. Having last featured the previous month against Barcelona and back in January against Wolves respectively, it had swiftly become clear the offer of new contracts would not be on the table as they ended up moving on to Trabzonspor and Villarreal.
At least the aforementioned players were granted their final appearances in front of fans, which is more than can be said for departees during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Following football’s enforced suspension in response to the health crisis, Adam Lallana saw his expired contract extended until the end of the delayed season but, knowing full well he would be leaving the club for Brighton, was only named in a matchday squad for Liverpool’s 5-3 victory over Chelsea for the night they got their hands on the Premier League trophy.
Instead, his final appearance had come in front of fans against Bournemouth back in March 2020 in the Reds’ final league match before the Premier League was postponed. But coming on as a late substitute, there was no way of knowing it would be his final outing for the club.
He still managed better than Nathaniel Clyne, however. Injury sidelined the defender for the majority of the 2019/20 season, and he left Liverpool when his original contract ended in June 2020 with his final appearance for the Reds coming 18 months earlier in a 5-1 victory over Arsenal.
Fans were at least present to see Wijnaldum’s final appearance for the club. Yet the Dutchman’s last outing came in front of a reduced 10,000 crowd as he captained the side to a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace as the Reds’ clinched a top four finish in May 2021.
And even before Klopp’s trophy-laden ‘glory years’, you can include the likes of Lucas Leiva, as a beloved player who departed through the back door.
Lucas left for Lazio in the midst of pre-season in July 2017, having been handed a late substitute appearance against Middlesbrough two months prior without knowing it would be his final appearance. But he was at least serenaded by travelling fans in his final friendly outing away at local Tranmere Rovers, with his exit to Lazio known in advance.
It was a different story for other stars sold by the Reds, with Ragnar Klavan and Danny Ings making their final outings as late substitutes away at Roma, having started a 0-0 draw with Stoke City at Anfield days before, and at home to Brighton respectively before sitting unused for the 2018 Champions League final and being sold to Cagliari and Southampton.
Months before, Philippe Coutinho had made what would prove to be his final Liverpool appearance in a 2-1 home win over Leicester City, before sitting out a New Year’s Day victory over Burnley as Barcelona got to work on his club-record £142m deal.
While Simon Mignolet was an unused substitute at Wembley for the 2019 Community Shield, with it emerging after the final whistle he was being sold to Club Brugge, his last appearance for Liverpool had come in January 2019 in an FA Cup defeat away at Wolves. Meanwhile, his final Anfield appearance came against Chelsea in a League Cup defeat in September 2018 – 11 months before his actual departure.
Dejan Lovren would be sold to Zenit Saint Petersburg in July 2020, having featured just once for Liverpool following the Premier League’s restart in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic as Klopp’s side were crowned champions of Engfland. Brought on as a substitute in the first game back away at Everton, his final Anfield appearance his final start was the 3-0 loss away at Watford in February 2020, with his final Anfield appearance actually being the 5-2 Merseyside derby win in December 2019.
And Xherdan Shaqiri left for Lyon in August 2021 as Liverpool were navigating pre-season friendlies. His final appearance for the Reds came away at West Bromwich Albion in May 2021, coming on as a substitute as Alisson famously scored a last-minute winner, with his final Anfield outing coming from the bench against Real Madrid the month before.
All the aforementioned players have contributed greatly to the Reds’ success under Klopp in recent years. While they might have been denied that true Anfield farewell, they will be afforded warm receptions if they ever return for Legends duty following retirement, if not granted a reunion as an opposing player.
With Wijnaldum the only one afforded a final Anfield run-out in front of fans, with his exit at the time a badly-kept secret, it is just that everyone knows exactly where they stand as Firmino, Milner, Keita, and Oxlade-Chamberlain get set to depart.
And in the case of Klopp’s two most used players, who have perhaps contributed more to the Reds’ recent rise than anyone else, it just feels right that they will be afforded an Anfield farewell that, over the years, so many of their former team-mates have been denied.
Don’t miss Bobby Firmino: Si Señor, an official Liverpool Football Club tribute souvenir magazine. Read Bobby Firmino’s story in his own words, reliving some magical memories of the brilliant Brazilian through exclusive interviews given to the club’s official matchday programme and magazine. Buy from club stores and Amazon now.