Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson believes the club have to keep Steven Gerrard “for many years to come” after the captain provided a timely reminder of his qualities.
The 34-year-old scored his first from open play since January in the 3-1 win at Leicester, having also been involved in the two goals either side of that at the King Power Stadium.
Gerrard is mulling over a new contract offer from the club, with his current deal due to expire in the summer, and, while manager Brendan Rodgers said he would be given time to do so, Henderson is keen to play alongside his inspirational captain for a few more years.
“He’s a massive player for us and a great leader,” said the Reds vice-captain. “We need to keep him for as long as we can. I hope he stays for many years to come.
“I thought Steven was outstanding for us. It was a real captain’s performance from him. He worked so hard for the team and he got his rewards with his goal.”
Rodgers has always insisted sentiment plays no part in his decision-making – highlighted by Gerrard’s benching for the Champions League match against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu and last Saturday’s 16th anniversary of his debut.
However, he does admit there is a special case to be made for the handling of his captain when it comes to playing time. But he has had to abandon, for now, the deep-lying role he saw Gerrard playing for the remainder of his career at the club after circumstances – namely a poor run of results – dictated the change which has seen Lucas Leiva take over the defensive midfield position and forced his captain further forward.
“People talk about being fair with everyone,” said Rodgers. “As a manager, managing certain players it is unfair to treat everyone the same – especially someone of Steven Gerrard’s stature.
“I had a great respect for Steven from the outside and an even greater one working with him on the inside.
“When I came in 18 months ago [sic: Rodgers joined the club 30 months ago] people were talking about whether he was going to be able to play in how I work and last year he was absolutely magnificent, scoring 14 goals in all competitions.
“Irrespective of the player, the status, for me it is what is best for the team. I pick Steven Gerrard because I still think he can influence a game for us.
“When I set the team up last year he was a playmaker playing behind the midfield as we had three super quick players up front in Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling.
“We looked at it again this year and we don’t have that similar type of game so we have to change the structure of that.
“That meant he can still have a greater influence but maybe I need to pick him in a different role.”
That different role has coincided with Liverpool’s best unbeaten run of the season, incredibly just three matches with the Champions League draw against Ludogorets followed by two wins, but it is a starting point from which Henderson believes they can build.
“Football changes very quickly,” he added. “It’s been a good few days for us. We’ve picked up six points and hopefully we can get another three on the weekend.
“If we can make it nine points in a week that would be massive for us. We’ll go into the Sunderland game with plenty of confidence. We have to stay together as a group and work as hard as we possibly can. If we do that then the results will keep coming.”