Jordan Henderson – Kenny’s Royal Flush?

Liverpool’s first tentative dip in the transfer market this summer looks likely to be completed today as the club have agreed a fee with Sunderland over the signing of Englishman Jordan Henderson.

The deal is set to cost between £13m and £15m for the club, with fringe striker David Ngog moving to Wearside.

Looking at the deal it represents somewhat of a gamble, with £15m being spent on a player who has only had 61 appearances in the Premier League since soaring through Sunderland’s academy three years ago.

This season Henderson was given the No10 shirt and helped SAFC to an unbeaten run against Man City, Man Utd and Chelsea, receiving glowing praise in the process. However following the sale of Darren Bent, Sunderland began to endure a torrid time, with poor form and lack of goals blighting the second half of the season. Henderson was given a large amount of criticism from SAFC fans, even having to endure booing from them at a match against Man City. He shrugged it off though, preferring to concentrate on improvement of his game:

“People say you have to be mentally strong during those periods and you can never doubt yourself. “It makes you confident when you have all the players and the gaffer making sure you are OK. Had my form dipped? Maybe a little bit. At no point did I stop working hard, or less.”

Showing a commendable level of maturity, Henderson did keep working hard and finished the season strongly, bagging a brace against Wigan and providing a thunderous dogged attitude which spurred his side on to a vital victory, going on to win the young player of the year award for Sunderland this season.

Henderson made his full England debut in the 2-1 defeat to France last November, starting alongside Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard. Having been hailed by his boss Steve Bruce as “The best young British footballer there is” the sky appeared to be the limit for Henderson, as he also won the YPOTY for Sunderland in the 2009/10 season.

So what will this lad bring to Liverpool? Spending up to 15million pounds on a position where the club is already well stocked has raised an eyebrow for Kopites across the country. Daglish and Comolli have scouted him, possibly being aided by the new statistical analysis model that FSG Group have proposed, which has worked wonders for them in the past (albeit in different sports). They’ll have noted that Henderson is quick, has a fantastic box-to-box engine, a sold range of passing, and is an adept crosser of the ball. He can play in centre midfield or on the right, although most would agree his most effective position is in the centre.

The capture represents a perfect example of the players Liverpool hope to bring in. They’re moving away from previous season’s signings of experienced men with little sell on value (Hodgson’s signings last season had an average age of 30, compared to 2011’s signings with an average of 22) to a nucleus of young talented signings with their futures spread out wildly in front of them. Of course it makes sense to implement these types of players, the question should be why has it taken this long for the club to move forward in this way? That’s a different issue though…

The timing of the signing could be crucial also, as it comes just before the England’s U21 European Championship campaign, of which Henderson is a part of. A decent performance from Henderson at the tournament could have greatly increased his monetary value in Sunderland’s eyes, and Liverpool may have been looking at paying a much higher transfer fee than the reported £13million plus David N’Gog.

Henderson has been playing in a side which, no disrespect to Sunderland, are not expected to be competing year on year for silverware. He therefore needs to thrive on the pressure of playing for a club like Liverpool, who are expected to compete for top honours in years to come. This can often be a major failing of a player who has not performed at a huge club like Liverpool previously, the pressure cooker is set at maximum when you pass the This is Anfield sign and walk out to a deafening roar and blinding sea of red.

Some players can’t handle this pressure at a certain age (see Bellamy, Babel), and some may never handle playing for a club this size (Diouf, Pennant). Time will tell if Henderson has what it takes to thrive at Anfield, although judging by Steve Bruce’s past comments, he certainly has the mental toughness and maturity to become a dominating presence in the spine of the team.

Dalglish will have been paying attention in the years that Sir Alex Ferguson has brutally stamped his Manchester Utd team as the dominators of English football. He will, as every manager should, take aspects of Fergie’s great United teams of the 90’s and try and incorporate that into his new Liverpool blueprint. Henderson, Suarez and Carroll represent the first marking of that blueprint, and a costly marking they’re proving to be based on the fees paid out.

However it’s necessary in order to build a side around these players, and Henderson’s transfer should lead to the floodgates being opened at Anfield as new recruits pour in whilst fringe players deemed passed their sell by date begin to trickle out. A British core is important in some manager’s eyes, and although personally it’s not something I feel is essential (Makelele and Mascherano did a better crucial hatchet man job than any British midfielder in the last two decades in my eyes), I believe it’s something that Dalglish is focusing his attentions on in this window, sprinkled with Comolli’s penchant for finding top class recruits from abroad.

Henderson will hopefully be held as an example of a club which has improved its capability in terms of scouting and signing young talent that are able to succeed at a club of the size of LFC. It’s no secret the many mistakes the previous transfer policies has had on the overall downfall of the club (Benitez spent £229 million on transfer fees at the club, how many were long term or even short term successes?), so it’s perhaps inevitable that fan’s of LFC should be scrutinising more closely than ever the positives and negatives of any prospective Liverpool signing.

Fortunately for fans of the club, the gamble of Jordan Henderson could quite possibly allay those fears if he lives up to his undoubted potential, as he may turn out to be the royal flush that Dalglish and the Kop were hoping for.

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