Sami Hyypia was famously selfless when Steven Gerrard was made Liverpool captain at his expense back in 2003, and there is an argument to say the current Reds skipper should now give the role to Jordan Henderson, writes Henry Jackson.
Back in October 2003, Gerard Houllier decided to make Steven Gerrard captain of Liverpool. He was just 23 at the time, but there was a definite sense that the time was right.
He had developed into one of the most formidable midfielders in the Premier League, if not Europe, and making him skipper of his boyhood club seemed a natural next step in his career.
Houllier’s decision was an extremely brave one though, as captain at the time Sami Hyypia had only just turned 30 and was in his prime. The Finn was typically graceful about it, however, as Gerrard revealed in his book ‘Steven Gerrard: My Liverpool Story’:
“How would Sami Hyypia, who was the current captain, react? From what I could see Sami was doing a good job. Ideally, you don’t want to receive the captaincy on account of it being taken off someone else. It is better if a player leaves a club or someone retires after a distinguished career. But Sami still had years ahead of him at Anfield and he had developed into a key player for us since arriving from Dutch club Willem II in 1999.
“My respect for him, therefore, only increased as a result of the hand-over of the armband. I knew he was a top guy, but he went up in my estimation afterwards. Not once did he sulk, not once did he make life difficult for me and not once did he let the disappointment he must have felt show. Sami made a decision just to get on with things and he can be rightly be described as an Anfield legend.”
It was a selfless act by a man who, despite having confidence in his own ability as captain, knew deep down that there was a better man for the job at that point, and that him stepping down was for the good of the team.
Fast forward eleven years, and Gerrard is now the veteran captain whose years on the pitch are slowly coming to an end. He has become arguably the finest player ever to wear a Liverpool shirt, but he will be more aware than anyone that his influence is diminishing.
In Jordan Henderson, Liverpool have the perfect replacement, just like Gerrard was to Hyypia all those years ago.
The 24-year-old has made unbelievable strides since coming so close to leaving Anfield in the summer of 2012, becoming a fearsome midfielder and arguably the first name on Brendan Rodgers’ team-sheet these days.
He plays with quality, passion, consistency and, increasing leadership, and although not as naturally gifted as Gerrard, there are definite similarities between him now and the 34-year-old back in 2003.
Henderson looked like a captain today. Loved it when he went over to Coutinho after he was subbed – same for Lallana.
— LFC Fans Corner (@LFCFansCorner) October 4, 2014
His performance in Saturday’s 2-1 win over West Brom was yet another in a string of superb displays this season, and his winning goal and earlier assist for Adam Lallana outlined his growing influence on his side.
Gerrard remains a key player, but even his most ardent fan – there aren’t many who worship him more than myself – would accept Henderson is now more important to the team.
So should the former England captain give up the role he’s had for over a decade? It would be a decision that would be as self-sacrificing as when Hyypia passed the mantle onto him in 2003.
At 34, Gerrard can no longer play regular football week in, week out, and Rodgers has the job of rotating him as the season progresses in order to keep him fresh. He’s probably only played so frequently of late because injuries to the likes of Joe Allen and Emre Can have given Rodgers no choice.
Henderson, on the other hand, is surely the fittest player in the squad, and one who, assuming he stays fit, will feature as much as anyone. His injury record is also terrific, which means, fingers crossed, he will rarely be sidelined.
Over the weekend, a clip of Henderson berating Gerrard during the win over West Brom was all over social media and it almost felt like a changing of the guard moment.
Gerrard had the chance to take the ball in the corner but chose to play a ball into the penalty area instead, much to Henderson’s anger.
The Henderson of two years ago would have been absolutely terrified to reprimand a player of Gerrard’s greatness in that manner, but Saturday showed that he now feels like one of the main men.
Gerrard is clearly extremely proud of being captain of his boyhood club, and he may well still feel he’s an important enough player to merit keeping the armband. He is still very much part of Rodgers’ first-choice XI in fairness, but then Hyypia was even more of a guaranteed starter in 2003.
There would be absolutely no shame in him standing down, and it may even allow him to focus solely on his football for the first time since his younger days.
When Henderson was made vice-captain last month, it was clear that he was being primed for the main role at some point in the future.
If the decision to promote the former Sunderland man to captain is made sooner rather than later, it’s likely that it would be Gerrard’s decision rather than Rodgers’. The Northern Irishman clearly still sees him as the right man for the job.
For now, the decision lies with the Reds legend, and although it will be no issue whatsoever if he continues as captain, handing it over to the increasingly brilliant Jordan Henderson makes total sense.