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The Heir Apparent?

For a couple of seasons Liverpool and England fans have cast their gaze wide, wondering what their teams would do when Steven Gerrard eventually retired. With the Reds legend calling time on his national team stint, is the answer closer to home?

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"Seriously, Stevie. I can't do another evening of topless selfies with Jose - will you have a word?" "Ar ay, lad, he'll want to play FIFA then..."
"Seriously, Stevie. I can't do another evening of topless selfies with Jose - will you have a word?" "Ar ay, lad, he'll want to play FIFA then..."
Clive Brunskill

The modern footballer is a generally ruthless creature, given to a a peregrine lifestyle which is dictated by the whims and financial beneficence of the next employer. Very few will go through a career in one shirt and only the very finest will spend most of that career wearing two concurrently. Steven Gerrard is one of that elite band, having donned the Liverbird and the Three Lions with passion for a decade and a half. In what will have been a truly distressing personal decision, the combative but classy performer has decided to retire from international football in the hope of prolonging his days in the Red.

The Huyton man has always seen playing for England as the very pinnacle of his professional attainment. This fact has not always sat easily with the proud denizens of the Independent Scouse Republic, but they could have no complaints given the remarkable performance levels the man with the smallest forehead in football has consistently produced for his hometown club. In the second half of last season, operating in a new deep role Brendan Rodgers designed for him, Gerrard was a revelation, and it truly looked as though he might have lead his team to a fairytale title win. It was not to be.

Next season, with the departure of toothy maestro Luis Suarez causing widespread gloom, expectations are somewhat tempered as Liverpool fans watch their rivals strengthen and many make an utterly demoralising sport of deriding their own club's new signings. Despite the arrivals of Adam Lallana, Emre Can, Lazar Markovic and Rickie Lambert, the general mood of some is sepulchral. They seem to have forgotten that the not inconsiderable talents of these new arrivals will be supplementing the remarkable flair and ability already present in the squad. Suárez may be gone but the premature lamentations and augury of doom is a tad difficult to stomach.

One man upon whose utter dedication and application Liverpool fans can rely is Jordan Henderson. Having navigated a troublous career arc at Anfield, in which he overcame unfair dismissal and criticism, the Sunderland native is surely in the first two or three names the manager pens on each team sheet. Henderson, fresh from a worryingly long spell under the questionable guidance of Roy Hodgson, has always praised Gerrard's role in his own emergence as a key man for the Reds and England and his words of tribute to the captain are heartfelt.

"I've always said since day one since I came here, he's helped me progress as a player and as a person as well," averred the zestful midfielder. "I've got a lot of thanks to give to him for that. Going away with England, he made it very comfortable for me - along with many other players as well. I'm sure everyone will miss that. It's time for the [England] players to take responsibility and step up. He's probably been the best player this country has ever seen - not only as a player, but also as a leader and a captain.

"For me, playing with him is a pleasure and hopefully I can continue to do so for a very long time at Liverpool. For England supporters, it's disappointing because he's such a big player, but at the same time, for Liverpool fans it's a big plus because it means he'll be fresher and can have more breaks when internationals are on - and he'll be raring to go. He's still got a huge part to play [at Liverpool]. That's probably swayed his decision in terms of being fresh for the Champions League. He wants to make sure he's 100 per cent in every game for the club. That is what will have been playing on his mind, and he'll have a huge impact this season."

Only twelve months ago it would have been unthinkable for many, who remained wilfully blind to his potential, that Henderson might be so pivotal to the club's chances of success. It was the firmly held opinion of this scribbler that despite the likable youngster's protestations to the contrary, he would often visibly shrink in the same midfield as Gerrard during his first two seasons, as though hugely intimidated by the older man's presence. When he got a chance to operate centrally, it was a different story and last season the two men flourished as vital equals. Indeed, it is not too fanciful to say that it was the absence through suspension of the hair product enthusiast that really derailed the club's title tilt, as last season drew to a close.

For his own part, Henderson is humble enough to focus on his own development rather than dwell on the lack of acceptance he initially faced. The strength of character the young man has displayed over his time at Anfield is not up for debate and it will stand him and Liverpool Football Club in good stead as he eyes the campaign to come.

"Two years is a long time," he reflected in relation to the time elapsed since his last visit to Boston. "I'm more mature, I've experienced a lot over the two years. Hopefully I can keep continuing to improve all the time and keep working hard. I hope the next two years can be even better for me. A lot of the players, the whole team, can take great confidence from last season. Maybe we're a little bit disappointed we didn't win the title, but at the same time I thought we were outstanding. A lot of confidence will be taken from last season, but it's a new season and we've got to start afresh. We've got a lot of new, quality players in, so hopefully they can bed in well and help us have a great start to the season."

For your scribbler, the most entertaining take-away from those comments was that Henderson has now started to converse in outstanding Rodgers-speak. Take heart, you naysayers and prophets of catastrophe. Jordan Hederson and his hero, Steven Gerrard, are up for the challenge on all fronts and with the Anfield till likely to ring long into the summer, they will have some exciting and ambitious new teammates to help them make the next step.

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