Jordan Henderson should be Liverpool's new vice-captain
Daniel Agger's departure may not have affected Brendan Rodgers' first-team plans too much this season, but it has left Liverpool without a vice-captain and no clear eventual successor to current skipper Steven Gerrard. The Reds' boss said after the 3-0 win at White Hart Lane that he hadn't given any thought to the situation but would use the international break to assess his options before making a decision.
The truth is there really aren't too many candidates -- not ones who tick all the required boxes, anyway.
If the decision was based on experience and time at the club, Martin Skrtel would be the obvious choice. He's a first-team regular and has made almost 250 appearances for the club. He also plays at centre-back, a position traditionalists will tell you is ideal for a captain as he can see the entire field and issue instructions as needed.
The one big drawback with the Slovakian defender is he's not at all vocal. He does his own job but isn't one for telling others how to do theirs, a big reason Rodgers invested so heavily in Dejan Lovren. The Croatian was brought in to be the leader in the defence and has all the attributes you would want in a captain or, in this case, vice-captain. He's experienced despite being relatively young but he's only played three games for the club, which may well count against him. Would it sit well with teammates for a newcomer to be given the vice-captaincy?
Adam Lallana is in the same boat. He captained Southampton and has all the necessary qualities you'd be looking for. He's a leader by example, a good professional and very mature young man. It would be almost impossible for Rodgers to make him Gerrard's vice-captain, however, given that he has yet to kick a ball in anger for the Reds after being injured in preseason. Besides, no one knows whether he will even be a regular starter, as we are yet to see what role Rodgers has identified for him. Lallana might be a candidate one day, but not now.
So who else does that leave? Glen Johnson is experienced and has been at the club a long time but is probably the last person most fans would want to see given the honour. Even madcap Mario Balotelli would be a more popular choice than the out-of-form (and soon to be out of contract) full-back. Lucas Leiva is another who has been around for many years, and even though he's worn the armband before, his struggles to even make the matchday squad these days push him out of the equation.
There's Mamadou Sakho, who captained France in a friendly against Norway before the World Cup this summer and was described by coach Didier Deschamps as a "natural leader." Two things are currently counting against the big defender. Firstly, he hasn't established himself as first choice yet and is competing with Skrtel for a place alongside Lovren. Secondly, there's the language barrier. His English is still progressing, as evidenced by his comfort in holding interviews in French; given that dealing with referees is an important part of the captaincy, Sakho is not ready yet.
So that leaves just one logical choice: Jordan Henderson. The 24-year-old midfield man appears to be by far and away the best candidate to not only succeed Agger, but to perhaps take over from Gerrard eventually too. If Rodgers is making a list of pros and cons for each player, there won't be too many "cons" on Henderson's list. In fact, I can't think of any.
The "pros" list, on the other hand, is lengthy. He's one of the first names on the team sheet nowadays and has grown in stature each year he has been at the club. He's one of the more experienced members of the side despite only being in his fourth season at Anfield. He's becoming increasingly vocal on the pitch. He's usually first on the scene to celebrate goals or when there's any kind of confrontation. He's now become a regular for his country, is one of the most dedicated professionals and hardest trainers you'll find and is beginning to show great leadership qualities.
Even at this week's news conference ahead of England's friendly with Norway, Henderson was displaying the kind of leadership that will endear him even more to his club manager. Raheem Sterling was being rather unfairly grilled about a perceived dip in form during the World Cup following his terrific start against Italy, and just as it appeared the teenager was starting to become a little uncomfortable, in stepped Henderson.
"I didn't think he had a bad game. I thought he did well: a 19-year-old playing in the World Cup, on the biggest stage. I thought he was our best player in the first game against Italy. And, against Uruguay, when he got the ball he tried to be positive, to take players on and get crosses in. In both games I thought he was outstanding."
That put an end to that particular line of questioning and no doubt drew a "Thanks, mate" from a relieved Sterling afterwards. That was Steven Gerrard-esque behaviour from Henderson and typifies the type of character he is fast becoming.
It's a remarkable turnaround from a young man who initially struggled after making a big-money move to Anfield from his hometown team, Sunderland. He looked like a fish out of water at times in his first season at the club, not helped by being played out wide on the right (and occasionally even on the left). He appeared short of confidence and reluctant to try things, and few were surprised when it looked like he might be shipped out after one year along with other disappointments from the Kenny Dalglish/Damien Comolli era.
To his credit, Henderson refused to accept that his Liverpool career was over and wouldn't even discuss a move to Fulham, vowing to stay and win back a regular place in the side under the newly appointed Rodgers. Initially he was behind the likes of Gerrard, Lucas, Jonjo Shelvey and new signings Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin in the midfield pecking order. He stuck to his task, though, and by the second half of Rodgers' first season, he'd forced his way in and began to impress.
He hasn't looked back since, continually improving both with and without the ball -- Rodgers often talks of how tactically disciplined Henderson has become -- and nailing down a first-team place. Henderson is no longer in the team because Liverpool don't have anybody better to bring in; he's in there because there are few better they could bring in even if they chose to replace him.
For the way Liverpool play, Henderson is perfect. He provides the legs that Gerrard no longer has and along with Allen, Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and even new arrival Emre Can, he helps Liverpool press the ball as well as anybody in the Premier League. He's also becoming increasingly adept at running in behind teams to score and create goals and is now one of Liverpool's leading lights and most inspirational players.
If anyone other than Henderson is Liverpool's next vice-captain, it will be a pretty big shock, to say the least.