James Milner could hardly believe his eyes, and he’s experienced more than most in football.
“What am I f***ing seeing?!” marvelled the Liverpool midfielder, eyes wide and smile wider. “Wow!”
He and his team-mates had woken up on Sunday morning miserable, heartbroken by the previous night’s defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League final, and sickened by the treatment of their supporters outside the Stade de France.
If you’d asked them then if they fancied hopping on a bus, sticking the tunes on and parading around the city, the chances are most would have said no. “We were dreading it,” admitted Andy Robertson.
They needn’t have. A few hours later, Robertson was thanking fans “from the bottom of my heart”, Jordan Henderson was tweeting about “one of the best days of my life,” and Milner was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
More than half a million supporters had lined the streets of Liverpool, determined to pay tribute to the team that has given them the ride of their lives this season. “Speechless,” said Thiago Alcantara. “We needed it,” added Virgil van Dijk.
The campaign may have ended on a sour note, European misery following hot on the heels of Premier League disappointment, but pride is the overriding emotion among Reds fans.
They appreciate what their side has put into this campaign, and understand the fine margins that were at play when it came to the crunch. You can’t have everything in life, and certainly not in football, but for a while Liverpool had them believing they could.
As it is, they must make do with ‘only’ the Carabao Cup and FA Cup. Two trophies instead of four. Hilarious, according to some rival supporters. Inadequate, say others.
One national newspaper columnist even wondered on Monday whether Klopp’s side are in danger of being remembered as “one of the great ‘nearly’ teams.” Talk about a tough crowd.
Of course, there will be disappointment. Self-reflection too. Jurgen Klopp and his staff are good at that; using pain as fuel, learning from setbacks and returning stronger.
They did that the last time they lost a Champions League final to Real Madrid, back in 2018. Within two years of that defeat in Kyiv, they had become European, World and Premier League champions.
You’d be a brave punter to bet on a repeat of that – Manchester City look as strong now as they ever have, and will be bolstered by the arrival of Erling Haaland next season.
But you certainly shouldn’t back against Liverpool remaining at the top. With Klopp now signed up until 2026, the aim at Anfield is simple: to compete for everything, every time.
There will be changes, of course. Players will leave and others will arrive.
Decisions must be made on contracts, and which of the club’s gifted youngsters is capable of taking the next step. Liverpool have high hopes for several, but timing is everything.
One big exit looks increasingly likely. Sadio Mane wants to leave this summer, with Bayern Munich his probable destination.
The Senegal star has been, and remains, one of Klopp’s key men, and his unique blend of skill, athleticism and determination will be nigh-on impossible to replace, at least directly.
Mohamed Salah says he’s staying for at least another year – expect contract talks to continue over the summer, and expect the Egyptian to hit 20-plus goals again next season.
However, Roberto Firmino’s time as a regular starter is coming to an end. The Brazilian, like Salah and Mane, has a year left on his deal, but it would be a surprise if Liverpool were to offer him a big extension.
And what of Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? They too are about to enter the last 12 months of their contracts.
Keita may well get a new one – though it’s by no means guaranteed at this stage – but Oxlade-Chamberlain will surely look to move on if he can.
West Ham, Newcastle and Aston Villa have all been linked with the 28-year-old, who hasn’t played a single minute for the Reds since the FA Cup quarter-final win at Nottingham Forest on March 20.
Milner, meanwhile, is out of contract next month, though Klopp is keen for the 36-year-old to be retained for at least another year.
Divock Origi is leaving for AC Milan, while offers will be heard for Takumi Minamino, and for Nat Phillips and Neco Williams, who enjoyed successful loan spells in the Championship during the second half of the season.
One new first-team arrival is already sorted. Fabio Carvalho, the exciting Fulham teenager, will join on July 1, the Reds having agreed a deal worth just under £8 million ($10.1m) for the 19-year-old, who can operate anywhere across the forward line.
Ben Doak, a 16-year-old winger, is also joining from Celtic, and Calvin Ramsay, the Aberdeen and Scotland U21 right-back, could be next through the door, as Liverpool continue to pursue up-and-coming, British-based talent.
How they handle Mane’s departure, though, will be huge. Reds sources insist he will not be allowed to leave unless a replacement has been found, but how do you find someone like him, a player who has performed to a world-class standard on the right flank, on the left and as a central striker?
That is the challenge facing Julian Ward, the sporting director who will officially replace Michael Edwards next month, and his recruitment team.
They’ve picked out gems before – Mane was one, as were Salah and Firmino, while more recently they’ve had success with Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz – and they’ll need to repeat the trick this summer.
They will also, in an ideal world, add a young, high-class midfield player to their ranks.
All in all, it adds up to an intriguing, but exciting summer for Liverpool fans.
They may have fallen short in their bid for the quadruple, but if Sunday’s scenes are anything to go by, they won’t be feeling sorry for themselves for long.
The comeback, it seems, has already started.