Last summer Brendan Rodgers was tasked with selecting a new vice captain to replace the just-then-retiring Jamie Carragher. Steven Gerrard had just turned thirty-four years-old and at the time it felt as though whoever ended up as Carra's successor was going to be selected with an eye to the future. This was a selection not just for vice captain, but for the eventual captaincy upon Gerrard's own retirement.
What a difference a year makes.
Daniel Agger's departure means the vice captaincy is once more up for grabs, only this time Brendan Rodgers and his players haven't spent the whole summer vying for the title during pre-season. It was likely in the back of the manager's mind all summer between bringing in Dejan Lovren and Agger's unhappiness at no longer being first choice, but it wasn't the formal job application process that it was last summer.
Few of last year's potential deputies are in legitimate running this year. Pepe Reina and Luis Suarez have both been sold, and Lucas Leiva is on tenterhooks himself as loan/sale rumours swirl around the Brazilian. So who's left?
The Front Runners
Hendo was a dark horse possibility last summer, with age, tenure, and lack of a regular starting position the previous year all working against him. But Henderson has blossomed in the last year, arguably becoming the club's most important player on the team sheet each week. Brendan Rodgers himself acknowledge that Liverpool lost the league title not when Steven Gerrard slipped versus Chelsea but when Henderson earned himself a red card versus Manchester City and was destined to miss three of the four remaining matches of the season.
Several other players might trump Henderson in terms of length of time spent at Liverpool, but few would be a better choice in terms importance to the team and the long term view as an eventual replacement for Steven Gerrard.
With Steven Gerrard on post-World Cup vacation and Daniel Agger injured/"injured", the task of captaining Liverpool through their pre-season tour was left to Martin Skrtel. Skrtel worked himself back into Brendan Rodgers' good graces last season after rampant rumours that the defender was on his way out of the club suggested the manager didn't rate him at all, and a season spent as Liverpool's most regular presence on the backline has helped him regain his previous standing.
Lovren's arrival was long heralded as marking the inevitable demise of Daniel Agger, though that's hardly the player's fault. Brendan Rodgers has spoken with great frequency about the need for someone in the mold of Jamie Carragher to marshal the back line, and Lovren's vocal stylings can be heard loud and clear over the in-game commentary and fan chanting during any match. Though he's new to the club, Rodgers' elevation of the player to an immediate starting position over both Mamadou Sakho and the now departed Daniel Agger indicate he may have an even larger role to play with the team.
The Dark Horses
Lucas was a frontrunner last season, but injury and frequent marginalization on the bench have changed his prospects significantly. Lucas still possesses the same qualities that would have made him a great selection last year — his ability to act as the social glue holding together foreign teammates can never be underestimated — but the uncertainty of his future in red makes the likelihood of receiving the vice captaincy very slim.
Though he spent half of his first season on Merseyside alternating between injured and benched, Sakho put in consistent strong performances both with Liverpool and France in the last six months. An occasional captain for France and appointed captain at Paris St-Germain at the tender age of seventeen, Sakho certainly has a leadership pedigree that would benefit Liverpool, but his position behind Lovren on the depth chart makes him unlikely to be selected for the vice captaincy at this time.
Sturridge hasn't necessarily positioned himself as a leader on the team the way Daniel Agger and Lucas Leiva have in the past or Jordan Henderson has in the present, but Sturridge brings an incredibly positive and life-affirming personality to the team that is rivaled by no one else in the squad. There's more to being a leader than just being an all around good dude, but if Rodgers is looking for a player with a #RedOrDead mentality and the ability to pump people up, Sturridge is certainly a good choice.
A sentimental choice, to be sure, but Lambert certainly has age and experience on his side, and would be a decent short-term option should Rodgers want to start fresh with both a new captain and vice-captain upon Steven Gerrard's retirement.