Captain, Leader, Leaving?
Liverpool skipper, Jordan Brian Henderson MBE, has been the centre of a frenzied furore today in the Liverpool world. The kind of furore you associate with the summer transfer rumour mill.
According to the very reliable, James Pearce, David Ornstein, Paul Joyce, Dave Maddock etc, contract talks between Liverpool and their skipper have hit an impasse. They report, that there are no indications as to if/when talks will resume.
Talks to extend Henderson’s stay beyond 2023 (which is the length of contract left since he signed a five year deal in 2018) were mooted before the Euros began. We all expected a swift conclusion to talks and a new long term contract for a man who has done so much for the club since joining in 2011. But here we are, staring at a standoff between the two parties.
Similarities have been drawn to the Gini Wijnaldum instance, with the Dutchman allowed to run down his contract and leave on a free. Gini was 30 years old in the final year of his contract and Fenway Sports Group (FSG)’s strict policy of not handing out long term deals to players the wrong side of 30 saw contract talks hit a similar impasse.
Hendo turned 31 just last month and that is counting against him in the eyes of FSG president Mike Gordon and Sporting Director Michael Edwards. Spanish champions Atletico Madrid and French giants PSG (who signed Wijnaldum last month) have strenuously been linked with a swoop for the Liverpool skipper. Below, we’ll play devil’s advocate and look at both side’s of the argument.
1. His Quality and Importance to the Team
First and foremost, Jordan Henderson is a quite simply a brilliant footballer. Most often, pundits and fans overlook his ability by focusing solely on his leadership skills or off the pitch behavioural conduct. That does him a disservice, as he’s up there with the very best midfielders in world football. You don’t get to the level he’s reached without having ability. People often forget, this is a player who broke through the ranks at Sunderland as an 18 year old and was named Sunderland Young Player of the Year in consecutive seasons. He earned his big money move to Liverpool at just 21.
Despite initial struggles to adapt to the size of club, he was still named Liverpool Young Player of the Year in his debut season. He stuck it out when he had more naysayers than admirers and fought his way from the brink of joining Fulham to take over from icon Steven Gerrard as captain. He’s become something of an icon himself as he has metamorphosed into the beating heart of the monstrous side Jurgen Klopp has built. Named Liverpool Player of the Year, England Player of the Year and Football Writer’s Association (FWA) Player of the Year in their title winning year, his CV is one that depicts a quality all round footballer who will be a miss for any club.
2. His Leadership and Experience
Henderson’s leadership qualities are so profound, it’s almost come to define him. So much so that, it was strange not seeing him with the armband for England during the just ended Euro 2020. This is a man who captained England at U21 level, was named vice captain of Liverpool in 2014 and finally succeeded Steven Gerrard in 2015. He’s been carrying the responsibility of the club on his shoulders for six years as a captain and he’s written his name into the rich tapestry of the club as one of it’s greatest captains by leading the team to Champions League and Premier League, not to mention, Super Cup and Club World Cup triumphs. A selfless and vocal captain, his influence is writ large on the playing squad and staff at Kirkby. His off the pitch work has also shown the type of man he is with his work to raise funds for the NHS workers an exemplary tale. Should Liverpool lose him, they’d be losing not just a key cog, but a leader, warrior and role model.
At 31 years of age, Henderson has seen it all in his career. He’s lost finals, won finals, lost titles on the final day, won the title, seen the lowest lows, and soared the highest highs. He’s eight games shy of reaching 400 appearances for Liverpool and has clocked up 64 caps for the England senior team. He’s a richly experienced footballer and is still in his prime. If Liverpool had a Champions League final tomorrow, Henderson would definitely start (he has started in two CL finals by the way). If you have a nervy title race, Hendo is a player you want in your corner leading the troops and setting the standards in training and establishing the mentality needed to approach every game like a final. Losing him and Wijnaldum in the same summer will drastically deplete the ranks.
3. Cost of replacing him
Liverpool have been linked with a whole host of midfielders this summer after Wijnaldum’s departure. From Yves Bissouma and Florian Neuhaus, to John McGinn and Saul Niguez, through to Renato Sanches. Most of these rumours have been batted away by club related journalists who point to the lack of departures to swell the transfer kitty to afford any of these moves.
Add a departure for Henderson and the club will be left with two huge holes in midfield that will definitely need filling in the transfer market. None of the above listed potential replacements are priced at less than £40million. Will the club’s owners be willing to commit up to £100million to bring in fresh talents in midfield? If not, then it makes you wonder why they would risk losing their skipper.
As stated already, FSG have a stringent policy on handing out long term deals to players in their thirties. They prefer to offer one or two year extensions when the existing contract nears expiration. We’ve seen this done with 35 year old James Milner and 34 year old backup goalkeeper Adrian San Miguel. This is a sound business strategy that safeguards the club’s future from being clogged with high earners who are past their best (best example being the lucrative contract Joe Cole got in 2011). Most of this squad have been together for a few years with most contracts expiring in 2023. The club can’t keep handing all of them long deals as it’ll lead to a huge backlog in 2023. The line has to be drawn somewhere and they’ve risked the ire of fans to use Wijnaldum and Henderson as examples, two players hugely popular with fans.
2. Injury worries
Ever since Hendo got diagnosed with plantar fasciitis (a painful heel condition), his robustness has been chipped away slowly but surely. No longer is he the indestructible force of nature that made 54 appearances in 2014/15. He didn’t make less than 40 appearances in any of his first four seasons with the club, but since then, has made less than 30 appearances in three of the following six seasons with season ending thigh, knee and heel complaints dogging him.
2011/12 – 48 appearances
2012/13 – 44 appearances
2013/14 – 40 appearances
2014/15 – 54 appearances
2015/16 – 26 appearances
2016/17 – 27 appearances
2017/18 – 41 appearances
2018/19 – 44 appearances
2019/20 – 40 appearances
2020/21 – 28 appearances
3. Ruthless decision making
FSG are well known to be ruthless business men who don’t factor emotions into their decision making process. They look at contracts holistically and do not get swayed from the cold hard facts by nostalgia. They have looked at the contract negotiations from a purely business angle and seem to have come to the conclusion that a four year deal worth £150,000 per week for a 31 year old and increasingly injury prone player isn’t worth it. They get no resale value from such a deal and will only be bogged down by a player who will be past his peak in a year or two on huge wages, making him difficult to shift. The owners are blamed for a lot of things, but one aspect they’ve got right is turning the football club into a self sustaining one from the debt riddled mess it was a few years ago. This particular decision may stir up anger but could be proven right down the line.
So wherever you stand, whether with the player or by the owners, you can have a few points to argue your case. It will be an interesting next couple of weeks when Hendo actually returns from holidays. A penny for Jurgen Klopp’s thoughts on all this.