Wind the clock back to late October 2018. Fabinho, one of Liverpool’s expensive summer signings, had only made two starts since his arrival and serious questions were starting to be asked.
Was the Brazil midfielder good enough for the Reds? Might he prove to be one of the club’s rare transfer market errors in recent years?
His debut against Chelsea at the end of September had done nothing to allay fans’ fears and his only subsequent inclusion in Jürgen Klopp’s starting XI came against Red Star Belgrade in a relatively straightforward Champions League home game.
Noise had even started to come from the French press that Fabinho was “bored” and looking towards the January window as a chance to join up with ex-Monaco teammate Kylian Mbappé at PSG.
Klopp, though, was convinced that his £44m man was on the right track. After all, we had been here before.
“Go back a year and look at Andy Robertson,” the German told a press conference at the time. “He played one or two games by this stage, not too many, and then he became the player he now is.”
Klopp followed a similar slow introduction strategy with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and, if you look back a little further, with Ilkay Gundogan at Borussia Dortmund.
Yet in this case it did feel a little different. Whereas Robertson came in for a modest sum from a Championship side, Fabinho had played in a Champions League semi-final, won the French league and cost a substantial amount.
Big transfer fees, though meaningless in reality, skew our judgement. As a result of his, Fabinho was expected to slot straight in.
But, even in the face of the doubts being raised, Klopp insisted. “He has all the qualities – hard challenges, good offensively, good defensively, quick, good shooter, fantastic set pieces, good header; all these things. Strategic too, he is good strategically in the right moment. But it’s been a different system. We just play different and that always needs time.”
At Monaco, the Brazilian had played either as a right full-back or as part of a central midfield pair, rather than as the lone holding player. And apart from position and formation, the two teams’ playing styles were chalk and cheese.
Unlike with Robertson, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gundogan at Dortmund, Fabinho also needed to adapt to a new language, culture and climate after moving with his young family from the South of France to the North of England.
As one of his youth coaches told me earlier this season, he is a quiet and reserved character, so that would have been tough.
"This moment to adapt, it hasn't been easy,” Fabinho told ESPN Brasil in October, “many times you are out, there were many times I wasn't [picked]. But I tried to learn from all this, tried to give my best during practice.”
He kept on doing just that, won a place off the back of his persistence and, if we fast forward back to the present day, all those concerns and questions feel like ancient history. Once again, Klopp’s patient approach has proved correct.
After a being forced to play a few games at centre-back owing to an injury crisis, the boy from Campinas has made the defensive midfield role his own over the second half of the season, and he has confirmed himself as one of the best in the world in the position.
As his manager recently told Liverpool’s official website, Fabinho “is just feeling more natural” – the array of qualities that Klopp mentioned seven months ago are now on display for all to see.
With his assumption of the defensive midfield responsibilities, the Brazilian has also freed up Jordan Henderson, who, playing as one of Liverpool’s two number eights, has at times felt like a new signing.
And, like any genuinely top-class player, the peak of Fabinho’s performance came when it mattered most, in the almost-miraculous comeback against Lionel Messi’s Barcelona.
The ex-Fluminense man was on his game from the start, playing the pass to Sadio Mané that led to a first-minute chance and cranked the volume at Anfield up to 11.
Fabinho then got involved in a tough physical battle with pantomime villain Luis Suarez. When he earned himself a yellow card, it looked as if he could struggle to contain the Uruguayan and his Argentine attacking partner for the rest of the game.
But, unfazed, the 25-year-old continued to patrol the area in front of the back four, filling in the spaces from which Messi can do damage, shielding his centre-halves and cutting out passes before they could reach their intended destinations.
In possession he was excellent, rarely giving the ball away (he finished with 90% passing accuracy) whilst still looking to find positive options wherever possible to launch his team’s attacks.
In the celebrations at the end, he was front and centre, belting out ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in front of the Kop. Thousands of miles from where he was born, he looked right at home.
With the intimacy provided by social media, we also can see that his family has settled well. On the final day of the Premier League season, after Liverpool’s valiant challenge for the English title, Fabinho posted a photo on Twitter of himself alongside his wife, kids and parents, all beaming with pride on the Anfield pitch.
Eight years ago he was playing semi-professional football in the fourth tier of the São Paulo state league.
Now, there is one just more challenge that must be overcome for him to crown what has, despite its inauspicious beginnings, been a magnificent debut season on Merseyside.
On June 1 he will line up in Atlético Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium to listen to the Champions League music blaring out over the PA. As it does, you can imagine a film of the journey that has brought him to this point will play in his head.
Having come this far, he will be confident that he can take that last step to glory.