Why Gerrard’s homecoming matters: Neil Humphreys
Reds still believe his destiny is to succeed Klopp
When Steven Gerrard took over at Aston Villa, he kindly requested that the conversation steered clear of Liverpool.
No one listened. The bond remains unbreakable.
When Juergen Klopp won Liverpool's first English title in 30 years, his attention turned to the one conspicuous by his absence.
"This club is built, in the last 20 years, on Stevie's legs. He had to carry all of the pressure on his shoulders... I am really happy that we can deliver this title to him," said the German.
Everyone listened. The bond remains unbreakable.
Villa may feel like a neglected sideshow when they visit Anfield tomorrow as attention returns, as it must, to one of the most endearing relationships in modern football.
Gerrard is returning to Liverpool. Only the shirt colour has changed. Otherwise, the two are conjoined in football like John Lennon and Paul McCartney in music. They can be separated, for a period, but are eventually reunited by a general public incapable of seeing them apart.
There have been other tight relationships in football - such as Roy Keane and Manchester United or Frank Lampard and Chelsea - and they often involve midfielders, the men tasked with bringing together disparate forces for a common cause. But there were usually caveats.
Unlike Gerrard, Keane and Lampard were not local boys. And there was no unfinished business. The pair won everything for their clubs.
For Gerrard, there is the one that got away, the one that literally slipped away, cruelly and unfairly, against Chelsea in 2014, ending any chance of the only send-off that his career merited.
When the Reds think of that crushing near-miss in 2014, they still think of Gerrard. When the Reds prevailed in 2020, they still thought of Gerrard. The two are inextricably linked, rather like the two managers in their respective dugouts tomorrow.
Gerrard has insisted that he does not view the Villa job as a stepping stone to the Anfield gig. He hopes Klopp never leaves.
But the German has spoken of an undeniable sense of destiny between club and club legend. Gerrard's pathway feels preordained.
Even the Englishman's coaching career appears to follow metrics laid down on Merseyside. He's measured on a scale of "Liverpool-ness".
Christian Purslow, the Villa chief executive, set the ball rolling when he appointed Gerrard, insisting that it was the 41-year-old's progress with Liverpool's youth teams that convinced the board of the manager's capabilities.
Never mind the Rangers silverware, focus on Gerrard's work with the Anfield kids.
Obviously, Villa intend to accelerate a youth policy that has produced terrific talents such as Jacob Ramsey and Carney Chukwuemeka. But it's not lost on anyone that Gerrard is still being judged on his earlier work, like a rock star unable to escape his first album.
He does it himself. In a recent Match of the Day podcast, he said that Liverpool's title win allowed him to "bury a few demons; not all the demons but obviously from (2014), it was certainly a big relief".
Gerrard and Liverpool's poignant relationship fascinates because those demons endure. His extraordinary talent was always beyond our grasp because it was beyond our physical comprehension.
But the regret, guilt and vulnerability are relatable experiences. He's human. We get that stuff.
He retains a likeable, everyman quality, a man devoted to humble self-improvement in a futile attempt to pacify his harshest critic. Himself.
He'll recognise these qualities when he greets the man he claims he never wants to succeed, but logic, fate and the vast majority of Scousers suggest otherwise.
Klopp shares Gerrard's humility, along with an uncanny ability to elevate those around him. They are cut from the same (red) cloth.
So Anfield will rise, for both men, in recognition of past achievements and the sly hope of plenty more in the future - from both men.
Out of respect for his current employers, the Villa manager will make all the right noises about this one being just another game. But no one inside Anfield will believe a word of it.
As far as the Reds are concerned, Gerrard is coming home.