Jordan Henderson made his much anticipated Liverpool debut at Anfield, in last Saturday’s opening game of the season, and I for one, was more than a little surprised. When I say ‘a little’, it has nothing to do with the young midfielder’s actual ability or current form. No, I believe, and I hope I’m wrong in saying so, that his instant start was all down to his hefty price tag. If this was, and is, going to be the case, then obviously it is the wrong choice for both club and player.
Of course, nobody at Liverpool is ever going to admit it if it is true, but like it or not Henderson’s hefty fee brings with it a pressure that calls for his instant inclusion – even if he isn’t ready just yet. Don’t get me wrong. I am in no way insinuating that Henderson isn’t ready just yet, or that he had a poor game on his debut, or anything else negative regarding the player’s new Liverpool career. It is more of a plea in hope that he is given the time to continue his development at his own pace, and in doing so, turn into the player Kenny Dalglish, and, especially Damien Comolli, hope he can become – without having any added pressure heaped on him, which will come from the media during every appearance in the starting eleven. Whilst the media are never going to be as patient – keen to generate any story into sensationalist headlines, the management and fans should allow his progression to occur naturally rather than have him play him just for the sake of his fee.
Eyebrows were raised when Liverpool forked out the £16-odd million it cost to take Henderson from his hometown club Sunderland, where he had only played two full seasons. But the youngster was seen as one of the rising stars of English football, making his full senior England debut last season and even touted by FIFA as one of thirteen young players to watch in 2011, on their official website back in January. His then manager Steve Bruce, hailed him as ‘the best young British footballer there is’ however, more key to his eventual hefty price was that he was actually English – and we all know the going rate for English players in today’s market; especially young ones – proven or otherwise. Not only were eyebrows raised at the price, for the lack of consistent proven quality on his part, but for the fact that Liverpool had acquired a player who, whilst can play on the right-hand side of midfield, is not a specialised right-winger. Many say he is going to eventually fill the role left by Steven Gerrard once he decides to hang-up his injury prone Predators, in a more central-role, and if this is the case, then Liverpool can afford to groom him into that role when ready and needed. On his debut, Henderson was selected to start – as a right-winger. They may think he was ready, but he certainly wasn’t needed in that position for Saturday.
On Liverpool’s bench were two players who, whilst themselves are not specialised right-wingers, have played for the team in that role, to a high standard – and have vastly more experience than the 21-year old Henderson. Step forward Dirk Kuyt and Raul Meireles. Both were available and ready for action. Both between them, were regular starters last season on the right-hand side of midfield, Meireles himself becoming something of a revelation in the team last year, when roving around the pitch from his right-hand starting position. As for Dirk Kuyt, he had occupied that area for a number of years now, weighing in with a number of important goals. Both are also experienced internationals with Portugal and Holland. The point here is that whilst the other Liverpool debutants on Saturday (Enrique, Adam and Downing) were needed for their specialised positions, Henderson wasn’t. Whilst he may become a world beater, he needs time to grow and acclimatise to the intense pressure playing for a club like Liverpool brings. Maybe the management thought it better for him to make his debut against players he knows extremely well at his former club. If so, I can understand. I just hope it doesn’t set precedence for ‘feeling’ a need to start him, before he is ready.
Liverpool are now in good footballing hands with Kenny Dalglish back in charge. The fans just hope that any non-footballing influences don’t start to take it back out of his hands.
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