“I’ve been at Hertha for 22 years,” Pal Dardai, then-coach of Hertha Berlin, said in December 2018 after Marko Grujic scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 victory over Frankfurt.
“This isn’t meant as an insult to anyone else, but Marko is by far the best midfielder I’ve seen in my time at the club.”
A little over a year later, Grujic remains in Berlin after agreeing to another season while Dardai made the decision to step down in the summer.
Replaced by Ante Covic, not a lot changed for the Serbian.
Grujic started all but one of the opening 12 matches of the campaign before Covic was removed from his post and replaced by Jurgen Klinsmann.
Klinsmann displayed similar faith and started the midfielder in all but one – when Grujic was suspended – of his short-lived tenure before resigning in February after just 10 weeks in charge.
But interim manager Alexander Nouri has a different take so far.
The Liverpool loanee has played in just one of Nouri’s four games in charge and that was 90 minutes in the chastening 5-0 home defeat to Koln.
Nouri dropped Grujic to the bench for the following two games and Berlin are undefeated after consecutive draws against Fortuna Dusseldorf and Werder Bremen respectively.
Grujic told the ECHO in October that he wanted to return and fight for a midfield role at Liverpool next season but by January his expectations appeared to have simmered.
“Honestly, we haven’t talked about my future yet,” he told German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.
“Of course everyone has to work their minutes, but I’m very happy with my time in this regard.
“Let’s see what happens in summer – Liverpool has a say in that.”
Grujic spoke to Jurgen Klopp about his future in the summer and the German encouraged a return to Hertha after an injury-interrupted first spell.
He has already made the same amount of appearances this time around as he did in his initial move but his recent involvement is a far-cry from the praise of Pardai.
Grujic was the first signing Klopp made as Liverpool manager and the German will be aware of his progress.
Or lack of it?
Klopp has kept in touch with his prodigy via WhatsApp message while Julian Ward, the club’s loan pathways and football partnerships manager, liaises with Hertha and Michael Edwards.
Grujic has not forgotten about Liverpool, either, often taking in matches on the television and the size of the task on hand is not lost on him.
“I’m not stupid,” he told Goal the beginning of this year.
“I know that Liverpool right now are an unbelievable team, the best team in the world. So, I know that I have to be at a very high level if I want to have a chance.
“That’s why I watch as many of their games as I can, to learn and to see the level. I know improvement is the only thing that can help me.”
He views Harry Wilson as a peer and, at 23, has set a definitive deadline for his Liverpool situation to become clear.
“I look at Harry, an unbelievable player, and myself quite similarly,” he said.
“We are striving to get to that level, but we needed to go and play football to do it. It doesn’t just happen overnight.
“It’s better for me, at this age, to be playing. If I am 25 or 26, then yes, it’s time for me to see if I am a rotation player at Liverpool or whatever.”
By the time he is 25 he will have one year remaining on his contract at Anfield.
That means Klopp, Edwards and Ward – and Grujic – will all have a decision to make this summer to protect the value of their asset.
But Grujic has proven he can compete at the top level in Europe and with a long-term deal, Klopp’s first signing could make Liverpool a handsome profit in the summer.
Signed for £5m in January 2016, he would be valued at least four-times that by Edwards.
The return of the Bundesliga, and Grujic’s performances until the end of the campaign, are likely to dictate the next move of his parent club.