Friday, 10 June 2011

Why Jordan Henderson's Transfer Makes Sense

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Following his move to Liverpool, the photo of a young Wearsider sitting on the shoulders of Ryan Giggs during a family holiday may need to be hidden from view in the Henderson household. In light of recent media headlines, Jordan Henderson’s suggestion that he has styled his off-field persona on the Manchester United winger may also need to be reconsidered.

However, the manner in which Henderson conducts himself appears far more impressive than his choice of role model.

In the interviews after the 20-year -old had put pen to paper on a long-term deal, both Damien Comolli and Kenny Dalglish emphasised the personal attributes that stand Henderson in good stead for the future. Although the transfer demands of some fans would have you believe that moves are simple process based purely on money, research into a target’s personality is important. Whoever Dalglish and Comolli spoke to when analysing Henderson, they would have received a glowing account.

In his own words, Henderson is “a bit boring”. He does not smoke, embrace the footballer’s love of expensive luxuries and on the rare occasions that he goes out with friends, he has a fruit juice. The England Under 21 international is something of a manager’s dream.

Although Henderson’s price tag has been questioned by some, Liverpool have acquired a player who will do everything in his capability to repay Dalglish’s faith. Darren Bent has provided evidence of his former team-mate’s attitude towards improvement. The England striker said of Henderson, “When someone tells him he can't do something or that he's not good enough, it's straight on to the training ground to prove them wrong”.

It is this behaviour that partly justifies Liverpool’s financial outlay. Henderson already has a reasonable level of Premier League experience under his belt, but arrives at Anfield at an age where he is still developing as a player. When combining a desire to learn with the opportunity to learn from one of the finest central midfielders of the Premier League era, Liverpool will be a good home for Henderson. He will be the first to admit that he suffered a loss of form midway through last season, but Liverpool have spent heavily on a great deal of potential. As Dalglish said in regard to Andy Carroll, this is a signing for the long-term.

If critics are keen to burden Henderson with the weight of a price-tag, he will not be the last young British player to move clubs for an inflated fee. British players have been transferred for larger fees than the European equivalent for several years and the homegrown regulations will do nothing but exacerbate the issue. The best young players are becoming increasingly vital targets for top Premier League clubs as they have the ability to satisfy a part of the quota for a long period of time. Henderson has the ability to thrive in Liverpool’s midfield for more than a decade. Anybody who believes that this sort of signing can be cheap will be proved wrong over the coming years.

Although I have focussed heavily on Jordan Henderson the person, I believe that Liverpool have also signed a potentially excellent footballer.

Henderson first came to my attention in Sunderland’s 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in October 2009. The youngster came off the bench with ‘The Mackems’ a goal to the good. Although his side were very unfortunate to only leave Manchester with one point, there was something about Henderson that caught the eye. He was comfortable on the ball, showed an ability to beat his man and his positional awareness was impressive. This was far from a headline-stealing contribution, but it was enough to convince me to that he was one to watch.

Henderson’s reputation flourished and his performance in the 3-0 victory at Stamford Bridge in November 2010 was worthy of the plaudits it received. A tough England debut followed against France, but his potential was recognised as he was listed by FIFA as a player to watch out for in 2011.

A dip in the second half of last season has been well documented since Henderson’s move, but it must be remembered that this coincided with a severe injury crisis in Steve Bruce’s squad. He was forced to play a large number of games for a youngster and played in a team that lacked a natural striker for parts of the year.

However, there were still enough moments to remind us of Henderson’s talent. Although there was a return to goalscoring form at the end of the season, my strongest memory from last season was Henderson’s role in Asamoah Gyan’s goal at Wigan. The move highlighted several elements in the Henderson skillset. He started the move, showed intelligent movement to find space, perplexed his marker with a trick on the touchline and displayed the end product missing from so many young prospects by floating a perfect cross into the Ghanaian striker’s path. If Henderson can reproduce this consistently, Liverpool have a good player on their hands.

It is difficult to know how the versatile Henderson will fit into the Liverpool team during his first season at the club. The strong suggestion is that Daglish is likely to move for Charlie Adam once more and Raul Meireles, Steven Gerrard, Lucas, Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey will join Henderson in preferring a central role. It would not be surprising to see Shelvey move on loan to another Premier League side, such as the moves that have benefitted Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverley and Daniel Sturridge in recent seasons.

Dalglish looks set to have strength in depth in the midfield and it is feasible that either Steven Gerrard or Henderson could play from the right. Raul Meireles has thrived in the free role ahead of the midfield and both England internationals can provide high quality delivery from wide, benefitting Andy Carroll. Former Sunderland player Michael Gray is one of a number of pundits to suggest that Henderson’s best position could well be on the flank.

Whatever system Dalglish chooses next season, Henderson will benefit from the quality of player that he will play with. Specifically, the movement of Luis Suarez should suit Henderson perfectly. One of his greatest strength is his passing ability, especially into the channels. With Suarez always keen to pull out to the left wing and others finding space around the box, the quick passing game that Dalglish is keen to implement could bring the best out of Henderson.

It is ridiculous to judge a player on his price tag before he has played a game and Henderson must be judged in the long-term. However, I firmly believe that Liverpool have signed a very good player. Henderson is very good technically, energetic, focussed and dedicated. He possesses all the qualities that Dalglish and Comolli are looking for in their young signings.

By the end of the summer, Henderson will probably not be the name that every Liverpool fan is talking about. However, it is one that they could be talking about for a very long time.

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