A year ago, anyone saying Dejan Lovren would be Liverpool’s unquestioned first choice centre half and the man who put the club into a European semi-final would have been laughed at. Such has been the defender’s remarkable turnaround over the past six months, though, that today it seems an entirely reasonable reality.
Lovren has been in a rich vein of form in 2016 after taking his first steps towards a rehabilitation in red under Jürgen Klopp in the autumn, and he took another major step forward two weeks ago against Borussia Dortmund when he scored the late goal that put Liverpool through to the next round. He’s since called it the best moment in his career, and it’s easy to understand why.
"You know, when the ball was in the air and I was there, I thought, ‘this is the time,’" Lovren told the Sunday Times. "I said to myself, ‘it’s now or never.’ It was a relief I would say. A relief. It’s difficult to describe the emotions. It was everything that had happened over the last could of months; the last couple of years. Always the focus on me to do something special.
"So maybe the people will now say, okay, we accept that. That moment you connect, every player needs it. I was so proud and saying, ‘yeah, that’s me, that’s the Dejan you know who is a fighter until the end, who will never say that it’s over.’ One of the best days of my life was moving to Liverpool, but the goal is the best moment of my career to be honest."
In recent months, fans have finally begun to see the Dejan Lovren they thought the club was getting when they paid £20M to sign him from Southampton two summers ago. Early on, tasked with too many responsibilities, he seemed overwhelmed. Now, playing behind a more responsible midfield and on the right next to a defensively sound fullback, he looks increasingly at ease.
And that header against Dortmund. That header served as an exclamation mark on his improved play, on the hard work of going from expensive flop to first choice centre half for a side in form and challenging for silverware on the continent. It’s a header, a moment, an exclamation mark few saw coming, but now, Lovren is determined to take the next step.
"I want to leave footsteps here," Lovren added. "I want people to be proud of me and to be able to say, ‘that was Dejan, he played for us.’ I want trophies, and I want to be thought of as a leader here. I’m still young but I’m born to be a leader."