He stands one game from a Champions League winners’ medal in Madrid this evening but the Brazilian midfielder Fabinho also takes to the field against Tottenham as exhibit A for the argument that there may be no better man manager in the modern game than Jurgen Klopp.
Spotting talent is one thing — and Klopp was not alone but was, certainly, quickest on the draw when signing the 25-year-old from Monaco last summer.
But the ability to develop, nurture and protect it, even in the most trying of circumstances, is something altogether different and, in the case of Fabinho, a skill that Klopp has demonstrated to an almost staggering degree.
Without a Premier League start until the final game in October, and that against lowly Cardiff, Fabinho’s signing looked questionable, at best, as autumn gave way to winter. Yet not for the first time, Klopp’s faith in his own judgment, his belief in players whose talent he had backed, came to the fore.
It would happen, as this season progressed, with Joel Matip and Naby Keita and, in Fabinho’s case, would see the Brazilian transform from questionable bit-part player to an integral part of a Liverpool team on the brink of a European crown.
“I knew it would be difficult, and that there would be times that I would be out of the team,” said Fabinho, looking back on his introduction to the Premier League.
I think it’s been excellent from a personal perspective. I’ve really been able to adapt to the style of the team and to the Premier League.
“Collectively, as a group, I think we’ve surpassed our already high expectations, given the success that we’ve had in the Premier League and the Champions League. Overall, it’s been excellent.
“But in terms of adapting, there was a lot of preparation and a lot of hard work. The two games in particular that stood out for me, were the game against Arsenal, because that’s when I really understood the speed of the Premier League, and the attention to detail that’s required.
“But in terms of building my confidence, the stand-out game was against Manchester United.”
That match, and performance by Fabinho in mid-December, has gone down in modern Anfield folklore — and not just because the 3-1 Liverpool victory proved to be the final nail in Jose Mourinho’s coffin.
Suddenly, the tall, athletic Brazilian showed he had the physical presence, to go with the undoubted technical poise, that meant he could excel in English football the sane way he had in France.
Again, suddenly, Klopp once more looked a genius and the wild rumours that suggested the manager might be prepared to cut his losses and sell Fabinho just months after his arrival looked precisely that — wild rumours.
“For me, it was never in doubt that I’d made the right choice,” said Fabinho this week.
Not every player transfers to a new club and gets straight into the team, as was my case, and everybody told me that’s how the coach works with new players; they’re not automatically thrown into the first team straight away.
“In terms of the game against Manchester United, it was probably one of the best of the season. I managed to get an assist in that game and I really kept up with the rhythm and pace, and I felt we were much superior to
“Before I came here, the English league stood out as fast and physical, and also as having a really great set-up, and I’ve seen that playing here.
“Playing here, the thing you see about the league is the intensity and high quality of all the teams you come up against. But what also caught my attention after I came here were the recovery times between games.
“That was difficult for me at first. That’s an area that I’ve improved in, and that’s really helped me settle in the Premier League,” admitted Fabinho.
Not only settle in the Premier League but become a major factor in a Liverpool side that came within a point of their first league title in three decades and reached today’s Champions League Final with Tottenham.
Twelve months ago, Fabinho knew he was bound for Merseyside and watched, with more than passing interest, as his new employers lost to Real Madrid in such heartbreaking fashion.
“I watched it, and at the time, I knew I was coming here to Liverpool,” said
Fabinho. “I didn’t really think about where I’d fit in to the team, or my position; I was watching it as a fan. I wasn’t really focusing tactically. What really captured me was the passion of the fans. I wanted Liverpool to win.”
Tonight, it is safe assume, he will be adopting a much more hands-on approach.