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Why letting Gerrard go was a stroke of genius by Rodgers

3 March 2015 | Jonathan Chan

I was in Liverpool on the day that Steven Gerrard announced that he wouldn’t be signing a new contract with Liverpool Football Club. The reaction of the city was reflected by the weather- dull, grey and cold. Just the night before an inspirational (albeit relieved) Gerrard had scored two penalties to salvage a draw against Barclays Premier League strugglers, Leicester City, in what was a dour affair. Fans of the club have bemoaned Rodgers’ supposed tardiness in locking up Gerrard’s future with the club, however I would like to counter that; Rodgers got it right in choosing to let Gerrard go.

At the end of Rodgers tenure (whenever that might be), I propose he will be remembered for three things: letting Liverpool’s best ever striker go (Suarez), pushing Manchester City all the way in the 2013/2014 season and helping to groom one of Liverpool’s best ever midfielders.

Who is that you ask? Step forward Jordan Henderson. Bought from Sunderland as a young lad, Henderson is a player gifted with an eye for a pass, an unbelievable work ethic and strong leadership qualities. In every way he was bought in as the next Steven Gerrard. This ability and potential has created endless headaches for Rodgers this season in trying to incorporate the current Steven Gerrard and his anointed successor in the one team. As both lack the rock solid defensive mindedness of Lucas Leiva (another interesting topic for another time), it has been simply a choice of Gerrard in the centre or Henderson in the centre.

Previous to the dour Leciester City match, was the visit of Swansea City to Anfield. Henderson was given the nod by the manager and chosen to start in his favoured central midfield role, while Gerrard was left on the bench (and to kick the ball around with Mario during the half time interval). On this night, Liverpool were breath- taking: quick transitions from defence to attack, solid at the back and lethal in attack. All in all, Liverpool, marshalled by an ever vocal Jordan Henderson, looked like Premier League challengers instead of mid-table mediocrity. In stark contrast, the following match saw Liverpool line up with Gerrard in the middle and Henderson out wide. The result was shambolic. Liverpool relied on two (perhaps dubious) penalty decisions in order to grind out a draw with the bottom placed side.

Perhaps what is more interesting is the way that Henderson fits into Rodger’s philosophy better than Gerrard ever has. Comparing the Swansea and Leicester matches is a good activity in analysing the difference that Henderson in the middle and Gerrard in the middle makes. In their 4-1 win over Swansea, there was a significant decrease in the percentage of long passes when compared to the Leicester game. No medals for guessing the cause of the decrease. Gone are the Hodgson and Benitez days in which Liverpool must rely on long balls to create goal scoring opportunities. In are the days in which Liverpool build from the back, transition the ball the midfield and then lay off a cutting edge ball the forwards. Henderson’s self control not to smash long balls up to the forwards ( let’s face it Sterling will never win a header) makes him a Rodger’s styled ‘Gerrard.’ A ‘Gerrard’ who posses all the attributes of the current Steven Gerrard, but with added discipline both in attack (not smashing balls up the field all the time) and in defence (not making reckless challenges).

Don’t get me wrong, Gerrard will go down as one of the best English players of all time, however Rodgers is quite frankly a genius for wanting to create another Liverpool and English midfield legend.

Bibliography

Sky Sports. (2014, Dec 29). Retrieved Feb 4, 2015, from Sky Sports: http://www1.skysports.com/football/live/match/313569/stats
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