On a day like April 1st, one can be forgiven for succumbing to a creeping sense of paranoid angst. When your scribbler was a kid, back in the pre-interwebs Pleistocene Epoch, a popular football publication ran a picture of Ian Rush in an Everton kit. Without the ubiquitous omniscience of a Google search to reassure folk that this was the cruellest of hoaxes, there were scenes akin to those created by Orson Welles with his 1938 radio version of War of The Worlds, but whereas suggestible Americans abandoned their homes in fear of alien invasion, gullible Reds ran into the streets to console each other about their icon's apparent defection to the bluenoses.
As the season's end approaches, speculation as to the futures of the best footballers has started to build to a kind of persistent hysterical whine, the pitch of which seems to cause folk to take leave of their senses. GREEDY STERLING HOLDING CLUB TO RANSOM, REAL WILL BUY COUTINHO, BARCA IN FOR HENDERSON and JOHNSON TO BE GIVEN ANOTHER EXTENSION are just some of the more irritating and utterly baseless headlines that for some reason have generated massive debate amongst the kind of Liverpool supporters who readily believe the unit-shifting, self-serving, entirely fictional guff that many media outlets create and perpetuate in an act of slavish devotion to their chosen deity, Mammon.
If there was one footballer in Brendan Rodgers' current squad with whom one would least associate the kind of tawdry contractual wranglings that seem inevitable once certain agents get involved, it would be Jordan Henderson. A young man of indubitable character, the vice captain of Liverpool Football Club will lead the side into the match against Arsenal and will likely continue to do so for the rest of the campaign, following Steven Gerrard's most recent apocalyptic cameo. It is both a tribute to the Sunderland native and a reflection of Gerrard's waning influence that most fans will be relieved to see Henderson don the armband.
Modern media being what it is, however, the fact that Liverpool's number 14 has not yet signed a contract extension has made him fair game for the gossip mongers. In the interest of click counts, such purveyors of piffle have chosen to present the delay as the hesitation and equivocation of a player who simply does not believe in what Brendan Rodgers is doing at Anfield and wants to play for a Champions League giant and, well...JUST BURN IT ALL DOWN!
You will forgive us here at TLO Towers for taking a slightly less histrionic approach to this story. Before you accuse your limited scribe of the worst kind of naiveté, please remember the Ian Rush anecdote and then temper that with the fact that over successive seasons, Liverpool fans have grown tragically accustomed to watching their most treasured performers leave at the peak of their powers. Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Fernando Torres and Luis Suárez are just some of the world class footballers whose departures Reds fans have lamented, so there is no wide-eyed innocence here. We are a people scorned. No doubt, Henderson's agent is bargaining for all he is worth (as is the appointed representative of Raheem Sterling) but is that not how negotiation works?
The one thing that recent times have taught us is that there are no certainties in the life of a football supporter. One simply never knows what is coming next and yet we obsess and pontificate endlessly about the possibilities. We can only go on hunches and the evidence before our eyes. In the case of Jordan Henderson, both of those criteria would lead this addled Irishman to believe him when he says that the years immediately ahead of him will be spent in Liverpool red. In a recent interview, the hair-product enthusiast was as unequivocal as any player tends to be in such circumstances about whether or not the contract delay was a major issue.
"It’s definitely not," averred the amiable midfielder. "I love playing football for Liverpool and I want to be there for many years. In terms of my contract, I think everybody else will make a big deal of it but for me it’s just letting my agent and the club deal with it and whenever it gets sorted, it gets sorted. All I want to do is my best for club and country.
"At Liverpool we’ve got fantastic players, real quality players and a lot of potential," he continued. "We’re a young team and I think there is great potential and a big part of us is wanting to be winners and winning trophies. I really feel we can do that. It is the same with England. I really feel we are going in the right direction and hopefully in the next Euros we can do something special."
One is hesitant to point out to Jordan that a large part of his potential success with England will be dependent upon one Roy Hodgson. The England boss, darling of many notable football hacks and himself the subject of frankly remarkable contract extension talks, oversaw the darkest era of this Redman's supporting life and his party tricks of deflection, silent character assassination and evasion have all begun to show themselves during his Three Lions tenure, so, basically, best of luck with that England success thing Jordan.
Back on the less choler-inducing territory of his club future, Henderson is eager to acknowledge the monumental presence of Steven Gerrard in his own Liverpool career. The club captain may well be on the way out, but contrary to the image of the Huyton man as an introspective, somewhat morose character, his successor-in-waiting paints a vibrant picture of an upbeat, personable fellow with a natural disposition towards leadership.
"When I first came to the club he was brilliant with us," Henderson insists. "When I wasn’t playing so much, he was just the same, helping us on the field with what I needed to do and improve on. And also off the field, he’s brilliant. He’s just got this sort of presence about him, that real leadership. He’s just a real humble person as well, which is amazing really, for all the young players at Liverpool. I’m sure everybody there has learnt a lot from him."
This glowing paean to Gerrard is particularly apposite at a time when it seems that all too many Liverpool fans are ready to simply whinge about the legend's recent shortcomings on the pitch, without even the courtesy of an acknowledgement that the future LA Galaxy player is amongst the very finest to have ever worn the Liverbird. April Fools, indeed. As for the man most likely to succeed Gerrard, it is easy to imagine future generations of Liverpool youngsters saying very similar things about Jordan Henderson's influence on their nascent careers, and for now, that will serve as tribute enough to him.