It’s all happening for Jordan Henderson. He captained his side to an FA Cup quarter final triumph just hours after his wife gave birth to their second child – and Brendan Rodgers was quick to praise his stand-in captain for his determination to play even after getting little sleep – his contribution to the cause is unwavering.
And it’s been a phenomenal year for him career-wise too, really. He’s been fantastic on the pitch, give or take a few games in Liverpool’s early-season stumbles, he’s scored some sensational goals and he’s landed himself a starring role in a new male grooming advert!
Steven Gerrard may be Liverpool’s club captain, but he’s stepping aside – or is that being stepped aside – for Henderson. With his strong Sunderland accent, he may never be Mr Liverpool like Gerrard, but nor should he try to be. He’s the cliched honest and hardworking player, but he just happens to be very talented, too. He’s there to replace Gerrard, to play in his position once he’s gone, but he’ll never replace Gerrard – no one could.
In February, Joey Barton caused controversy on twitter – surprisingly – by suggesting that Henderson was ‘wearing armbands… Trying to impersonate legends’, but incapable of actually replacing Gerrard. Jamie Carragher pounced on his tweets and bafflingly got the wrong end of the stick. Barton wasn’t slating Henderson, or at least, not Henderson’s ability.
And Joey’s spot on here – Henderson is a wonderful player, but he’s not Steven Gerrard.
He’s not completely unlike Gerrard, and they do share some similarities in their style of play, but they certainly aren’t the same. Henderson won’t drag his team kicking and screaming through a game, he won’t almost single-handedly win points either. He’ll contribute lots, and he’ll be a big player for Liverpool for years to come, but he won’t be Steven Gerrard.
As Barton said, Henderson is great at being himself, but he’s probably not that great at being Gerrard. Then again, no one is.
Brendan Rodgers himself is irked by the comparisons, telling the media to stop “putting pressure” on Henderson, but more importantly telling the assembled reporters that Liverpool will “find different ways, different types of player” to replace Gerrard.
Rodgers is clearly building his own team, a team that he wants rather than a team that he’s inherited. Luis Suarez is gone, Gerrard will be soon, but he has players in his team that seem to fit the mould better. Team players, players who are not necessarily world beaters on their own, but as part of a team they excel. Liverpool are more than just the sum of their parts.
And Rodgers has replaced players without replacing them before. When Suarez left a gaping hole in the Liverpool attack, it wasn’t just one player who Rodgers singled out as a replacement. He changed the formation, the style of playing, he brought in lots of different players, and lots of different kinds of tactical approaches. And this seems to be what he’s saying here. He doesn’t want Jordan Henderson to be the new Gerrard. He wants Jordan Henderson to be Jordan Henderson.
Once Gerrard does leave there will be no replacing him. The team will just have to play differently. But that’s what they’ve done this year with Suarez. They couldn’t manage it until Christmas time, and it’s, probably, cost them a Champions League place. But this time Gerrard has been phased out. It’s sad for the player, for the club and for the fans. In fact, it’s sad for the Premier League, too. But Rodgers has done what was needed to make sure that Liverpool can start next season well and have a full-on go at the title.
Henderson will be vital to this campaign, but he will not be as vital as Gerrard has been in the past. He is not trying to impersonate anyone, but by being himself he will replace Gerrard. Just not in a way that’s as simple as just taking his place.