Five hundred and ninety-six days separated two football matches at Anfield on April 27, 2014 and December 13, 2015. More than 18 months but not quite two years.
On the former date, Steven Gerrard took a heavy touch from a Mamadou Sakho pass, panicked, and slipped as he tried to stop the ball being intercepted by Chelsea’s Demba Ba.
Ba raced away. People still talk about it today. They sing about it today. Although maybe not any more.
On the latter date, Jordan Henderson’s opening goal against West Bromwich Albion had been cancelled out by a Craig Dawson equaliser, and then Jonas Olsson scored for the Baggies in the 73rd minute.
It was recently-appointed manager Jurgen Klopp’s eighth Premier League match in charge, having won three of the previous seven. His first defeat, at home to Crystal Palace, had seen him criticise fans at Anfield for leaving early when Liverpool were 2-1 down. He said he felt alone.
But the fans stayed against West Brom, helped perhaps by a few spiky challenges from the opposition and the touchline antics of visiting manager Tony Pulis. Then in the sixth minute of added time, Liverpool substitute Divock Origi lined up a shot from distance, it took a huge deflection and found its way into the bottom corner of the net.
At full-time, Klopp marched onto the pitch and summoned his bemused players towards the Kop end.
They sheepishly held hands in a line and took a bow, to all intents and purposes looking as though they were celebrating a draw at home to the team 13th in the Premier League. Social media was ablaze that night.
But Klopp? He didn’t care. He didn’t go out of his way to explain that the gesture was to thank fans for staying after the Crystal Palace criticism.
Those fans, and the club’s millions of others around the world, had to put on a brave face as the mockery kept coming. They had to trust that there was method in this charismatic, successful German’s madness. They just had to. There was no other choice.
Because after 596 days of gloom, there was an uncomfortable question hovering above Liverpool. Put simply, what if Klopp fails? What then? Where then?
Because those 596 days had really pressed home another question, the awkward one that has hung over the club for much of those 30 league title-less years.
Just what is their place on the global scale?
Can they still act as though they matter when – as was becoming clearer – they really didn’t?
Crystanbul. The departures of star players like Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling. Awful recruitment in trying to replace them. Daniel Sturridge’s injuries. Rolling out the red carpet and raising the white flag on a frankly pathetic Champions League night at Anfield against Real Madrid and losing 3-0. Finishing second in the league when it felt like last, sixth when it felt like nowhere. Losing 6-1 to Stoke City, 4-1 at Arsenal, 2-1 to Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa in an FA Cup semi-final, 3-0 at home to West Ham. The slow, painful end for the endearing but green Brendan Rodgers. Gerrard walking away after a career spent striving to prevent mediocrity and coming so cruelly close to his ultimate prize at the end of it.
All of those events happened during those 596 days.
So was Klopp really the man to change all that?
Here he was in front of the Kop after 2-2 draw with West Brom. A week earlier Liverpool had lost 2-0 at Newcastle, a week later 3-0 at Watford.
And now look. Now look.
Liverpool are champions of England, Europe and the world, but what they also are is a global force, so often the talk of the football town and an institution that are no longer weighed down by their past.
Perhaps Klopp’s greatest achievement, more so than the trophies he’s won, is that he delivered on the promises he made in that introductory press conference when he spoke about a heavy backpack of history that was weighing Liverpool down, and of turning doubters into believers.
That West Brom bow was the first time he indicated that he would do things at this football club and everyone would follow him.
There was no room for anyone – player, staff member, fan – if they weren’t pulling in the same direction as everyone else.
Liverpool would go on to lose two cup finals that same season, but qualification for the Champions League with a final day win over Middlesbrough the following year – when Gini Wijnaldum flicked a switch on Anfield with an uproarious goal right on half-time – would be the catalyst for that unity to start bearing fruit in strength.
With a couple of exceptions, Liverpool have never really looked back. Even on one of the occasions they did, in Kiev in 2018, it proved to be the inspiration for them to kick on into another level. And what a level it is.
Klopp has now got his side playing to such a harmonious tune it is sometimes easy to take them for granted.
Methodical squad building and trusting in players at his disposal – Henderson and Origi aren’t the only ones still there from that West Brom game – has been his way, and his way has now garnered complete and utter devotion from a spellbound fanbase.
It’s why he can pick a youth team for an FA Cup tie or explain away the failure to sign a brilliant forward and no-one bats an eyelid. He has total control over a club that had an image before, but has now given that over to him.
Only the extraordinary brilliance of Manchester City denied them the Premier League title last season, and a global pandemic was the only force that threatened to do so this. Although the league was won by January, really.
Klopp’s Liverpool now officially have the prize that the club have craved for 30 years, and which seemed so far away during those 596 days.
This is Klopp’s title, and this is Klopp’s legacy.
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