Can Jordan Henderson win over his doubters?

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Aaron previews a big year for Jordan Henderson, who struggled to make any real impact in his debut season.

As seasons go our most recent Premier League campaign was bitterly disappointing. Buoyed by a host of big money signings and gleefully riding the wave of Kenny Dalglish’s return many expected or at least hoped for great things. As it proved, the reds slumped to their lowest finish since 1994. The old adage claims the table never lies but it can certainly distort perceptions. Liverpool endured some rotten luck throughout the campaign and merited far more than the measly 52 points they eventually accrued. Far from being a poor side they were simply a wasteful one. Nevertheless change was afoot and a new era began with last Thursday’s fortuitous win over FC Gomel. Given the home-side’s total domination of affairs one can only hope we have finally made amends with Lady Luck.

One of the key talking points of last season was Jordan Henderson and his patent struggles. Bought for an inflated £16m it is fair to say he did precious little to warrant that outlay. Though a willing runner his overall form can be described as average at best with just as many troughs as peaks. True, he was often played out of position (on the right of midfield) and perhaps even over-played but neither explanation excused him from criticism.

The general consensus seems to be that Henderson is a confidence player. As the season wore-on and his form stuttered he would invariably keep things safe, usually by playing the simple pass. When the team was crying-out for someone to take responsibility our squad was found wanting. Admittedly, expecting a 21 year-old Henderson to inspire us was a big ask but rather than take games by the scruff of the neck he tended to coast through them and provide nothing in an attacking sense.

This fact is underlined by his shabby goal return of two, this from a hefty 54 appearances. Likewise he mustered a mere four assists during this period, hardly the giving type. Debate raged as to whether he will ever cut it at LFC and his selection for England’s European Championship squad went down like flares at a Motorhead concert. Much of the stick directed his way was harsh and over-the-top. Henderson is clearly talented but needs to find the belief to impose himself on games if he is to carve-out a long career at Anfield. Dalglish clearly believed in him but strangely a change in manager may do him the world of good.

Before returning to training in the US new boss Brendan Rodgers spoke of his admiration for the former Sunderland man. In-keeping with an imperious series of interviews, Rodgers spoke of the pressures placed on a youthful Henderson, who it should be remembered moved away from his family and friends at a tender age. Furthermore, the Northern Irishman gave an insight into the midfielder’s professionalism and ‘incredible attitude’ before announcing his excitement at working with the player himself.

So could Rodgers be the man to bring out his best? Quite possibly. Assuming Liverpool are to line-up in a 4-3-3 formation (as they did against Gomel) Henderson would be granted his wish of playing centrally. This system does not typically require wingers, as opposed to two wide-forwards supporting a lone front-man. Henderson would therefore be spared from the role famously described as the grave-yard shift by Steven Gerrard and Danny Murphy. And indeed he was picked to start alongside the former and Lucas out in Belarus.

What was clear from the off was Henderson’s desire to spray balls forward at the earliest possible opportunity. One such raking pass almost created a goal for Gerrard, while most others went astray. Ironically the urge to play a killer pass hindered the tactics and undid the possession game preached by our new coach. Having said that, it was refreshing to see Henderson in particular receive play and attempt to create rather than pass the buck. Hopefully this is a sign of his growing confidence or at least a realisation he must contribute to more phases of a game.

With Alberto Aquilani now sold and an exit for Charlie Adam talked-up Henderson will fancy his chances of landing one of those three midfield berths. Joe Allen may yet to join from Swansea but given our captain’s injury record the opportunity to prove his worth will be there. And whisper it quietly; the question of just who will eventually succeed Stevie will soon need answering. Both Henderson and Jonjo Shelvey were recruited with that in mind, though both remain some way off staking serious claims. Nevertheless, if encouraged to play his natural game and enthused by an upturn in results our number 14 may yet go on to enjoy the kind of career predicted by both Dalglish and Damien Comolli. In short, it is far too early to write him off.

As it is the upcoming season. A great deal of negativity is swirling the internet given the lack of transfer activity. To this point we have lost Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez, Fabio Aurelio, Alberto Aquilani and it would seem Craig Bellamy. In addition to such both Daniel Agger and Andy Carroll are being linked with moves away from L4. On the flipside Italian striker Fabio Borini is our only recruit, which has led to great furore amongst sceptical factions of Kopites.

It must be said that keeping Agger at the club should be a priority. Luis Suarez has today penned a new long-term deal and resisting Manchester City’s upcoming overtures is just as critical. To lose Agger would be a symbolic blow – particularly given the star names that have deserted Anfield in recent seasons. What seems to petrify fans are the possible replacements discussed in the media. More than any club, we can appreciate the utter garbage spouted by certain sections of the press and should be wary of believing everything we read. Only when Rodgers has his squad in place and the domestic campaign is underway can serious judgements be made.

Until then we must back his vision and portray a united front. If the manager feels a big sale would fund a handful of targets we must support his vision and remain united. Gerard Houllier acquired players he felt would suit HIS style of play and Brendan Rodgers looks set to follow suit. However there is no better footballing defender than Daniel Agger, who would surely flourish under the new regime. With that in mind reports claiming our new man wants rid are immediately questionable. If he was to be sacrificed for the sake of other signings, those coming would need to be pretty special.

But again rather than overact and hit the panic button let’s wait and see what unfolds between now and the close of the window. Hopefully Agger will be retained and line-up alongside a few more recruits as we enter what is sure to prove a fascinating season.

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