Every fandom has their cult heroes who seemingly drop in out of the sky and provide a lifelong memory. Phillies fans have Matt Stairs. Bulls fans have Steve Kerr, to an extent (Kerr was a fine player but he does seem an odd choice from the gods to hit a title-clinching shot, no? Then again, he did it with the Spurs too, didn’t he? Perhaps the gods were just sticking it to us). There are some who will tell you that Robert Horry made a career out of this, except Horry was at least in the rotation for all of the 32 championship teams he was on or close to it.
And then there are guys who have made a career out of being the guy in that place at that time, and really being in no place at any other time. Divock Origi is that guy for Liverpool, for the Premier League, and possibly all of soccer. To try to put it into context just how far out into Narnia he usually is, and demonstrate the distance he covers to score some of the biggest goals for Liverpool, Saturday was his 165th appearance for the club in seven seasons. That averages out to 23 appearances per season, not even a starter’s load, and that’s if he was starting all those matches, which he most certainly was not. Saturday was also the 100th time he came off the bench in a game for the Reds. That means he’s basically started less than 10 matches per season for seven seasons.
Liverpool did not look like they were ever going score against the Wolves on Saturday. Wolverhampton’s dogged defending, closing off space, shackling of Mo Salah to prevent any divine inspiration, and some “interesting” finishing from Liverpool made it seem like they would waste Chelsea’s loss earlier in the day.
But you can’t keep Salah in a container for 90 minutes. The touch from Virgil van Dijk’s 60-yard pass is heavenly, setting him off ahead of Ryan Aït-Nouri with control for maybe the first time all afternoon. Salah only needed that sliver of an opening, but this time he needed an accomplice.
There was Origi, just in the right spot where the planets aligned to form a convergence, not even taking the best touch on the pass from Salah, but good enough considering where the Wolves defenders were. Benefitting from José Sá being magnetized to the far post and sliding by like he was on an airport people-mover, leaving more than enough room at the back post. And to win yet another game for Liverpool in a season where every point could be vital to win the league. It’s the kind of thing it seems like he’s always doing, and yet rarely doing.
Because he did this once:
Or, y’know, scored three of the most important goals in the team’s history against Barcelona and Tottenham just five months later:
And the thing is, that’s kind of all he does. He plays in the League Cup or the occasional European game that doesn’t mean anything. But that’s it. He rarely even comes on as a substitute. Saturday was only his ninth appearance of the season in any competition, just third in the league. He’s no better than a fifth-choice forward for Liverpool.
Is he good? We have no idea. He started a World Cup quarterfinal for Belgium at just 18, so there was definitely promise at some point. He was also voted worst player in France before coming to England, which is something. If he were truly good, he probably would have grabbed a place on the team far more regularly. But if he were completely awful, he wouldn’t still be here.
He’s had chances to not be here. There was a spell in Germany for a season. There have been full transfer offers. He’s usually turned them down.
And maybe that’s the thing about Origi. He’s content to stand still and let the world move the pieces around him. It’s kind of how his season-changing goals come about. Especially those winners against Everton and Barcelona. He just happened to be there when truly inexplicable things happened — like the entire Barca defense turning the wrong way or a ball somehow dropping from 20 feet above bouncing on the crossbar twice before delicately falling inbounds instead of out.
Watch Origi after these goals, and the one on Saturday, and you see the expression of a man who can’t really explain it either. Or maybe he knows that things will just fall into place for him, except he doesn’t know why or care to find out. He’s soccer’s Domino, where things happen to him simply because it’s him and he’s there. His very presence puts things in imbalance, and yet balances them perfectly at the same time.
There’s also the joy of getting to do all this while arguably being the most surprising choice to do so. It’s not that he isn’t deserving, because his instincts would have to get him into these spots. But how can his instincts still be that sharp when they’re used so little? Surely there’s something cosmic about it.
Origi will be 27 in April, which means there will still be time for him to go somewhere else to play regularly. Maybe even work himself back into the Belgium squad. Or maybe he’s just content to be at the middle of everything a few times per season, with no explanation, the calmest presence in the middle of a storm that’s sort of his own creation and yet he can’t understand. Smiling politely all the time, as shocked as you are that it’s happened to him again, but raking in all the joy from it nonetheless. Because what’s the fun of the randomness if you don’t enjoy it? It obviously can’t be explained, so why not just smile?