Gerrard, Dalglish, Rush, Carragher and Fowler are but a few of the famous names to have made an impact for Liverpool and written themselves into the history and fabric of the club. A new generation has now dawned on Merseyside and Jürgen Klopp’s outlook on football is sure to give hungry young players a chance to emulate their predecessors and become heroes in their own right. Three in particular – Ben Woodburn, Ovie Ejaria and Trent Alexander-Arnold made a real impact in the EFL cup quarter-final victory over Leeds and we take a look at their future prospects:

Woodburn joined Liverpool aged seven and has progressed through the age grades, making his debut as a 16-year-old against Fleetwood in a friendly before the 2016-17 season. He scored in this game and then again against Wigan four days later. He made his competitive debut as a substitute in Liverpool’s Premier League win over Sunderland and in the process became the third youngest player to represent the reds. Three days later he came on in the 67th minute against Leeds. Fourteen minutes later, Woodburn ensured victory for the hosts with a cool finish following a sweeping attack. Klopp wants to protect the youngster from media hype after Woodburn overtook Liverpool legend Michael Owen as their youngest scorer by 98 days, but that wish, expressed post-match, was followed by headlines in the national media, including Young King of the Kop, Owen Mk II and Heaven 17.

A complicated situation means that Woodburn could end up playing for either Wales or England but he has made no secret of the inspiration he has gained from senior Wales stars saying that “Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey are world class and I want to replicate what they do”. It now falls to Wales manager Chris Coleman and, perhaps, his England counterpart Gareth Southgate to decide if, when and for whom Woodburn makes his international bow.

Ejaria featured for Liverpool in pre-season against Fleetwood and Wigan then most notably in the US against Chelsea but an injury kept him out of the beginning of the season before he made a comeback for the Under-23s. He finally made his first team debut against Derby in the EFL cup and then in the next round started and played the full game against Spurs. Another eye catching display in the win over Leeds has made us take notice of his huge potential, “I have always played in the middle of the pitch,” he says. “Sometimes when I’ve been playing with the U23’s this season I’ve been used out wide on the left, but I don’t find that too hard because I’m used to playing in a No.10 position. So I can come inside on occasions and play as a second No.10”.

Ejaria was born in London but is eligible to represent Nigeria through his family. He started playing football competitively in south London where he met then-Chelsea coach Michael Beale, who now works with him at Liverpool. In 2005 he joined the Arsenal academy and moved through the age-groups, impressing coaches at clubs across the country including Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United then in 2014, having played for Liverpool as a triallist at the AEGON Futures Cup in the Netherlands, Ejaria agreed to move to Merseyside on a permanent basis, despite the attentions of Manchester United.

Trent Alexander-Arnold was another who impressed for Liverpool in the EFL Cup clash with Leeds having been a ball boy in the fixture between the two sides seven years ago! Before Klopp even arrived on Merseyside, Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard had tipped the 18 year-old to be a success. Quite the praise for the teenager who admits he used to pretend to be Gerrard when he was playing as a kid. He was born in West Derby and grew up dreaming of playing for Liverpool. He played in the Under-16s under Neil Critchley, where he was made captain and a string of good performances earned him a call up to the England Under-17 side. He has scored twice in seven appearances in Premier League U23 league this season, including a scorcher against Spurs.

The 18 year old is a central midfielder, with a really good engine and the ability to get forward. He has a superb range of passing and his ability to play at right-back showcases his versatility. The Liverpool No.66, who now trains regularly with the first team, has impressed his Under 23 boss Michael Beale this season. “He’s young and playing ever so well. It’s not too long since he had his Under-23 debut against Manchester City and that was hard for him,” he said. It appears he’s on the fringes of the first team and after signing his first professional contract last October, his future looks bright. Off the field, he attributes his rise to his faith, as he looks to make his mark.

About the author – Liam Bailes

Liam has been a football fanatic since the early 1990s and continues to be delighted by the sport today. He follows the 5 bog European leagues as well as the npower championship and major cup competitions both domestically and internationally. He is an FA level 2 coach and loves to be involved with football at every opportunity.


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Last season was the seventh time in a row that the champions failed to successfully defend their title and it was 5000/1 shot Leicester City that became the sixth different winner of the premier league. Due to this the 2016/2017 Premier League season is arguably going to be the most exciting and debated about season ever. Here we look at the teams that have started well and their subsequent title chances:

Manchester City:

Maximum points after six games, plus 13 goal difference and off to a flyer in the Champions league. Terrifying statistics for the rest of the league and just what the blue half of Manchester wanted and were expecting after the appointment of Pep Guardiola as manager. His predecessor, Manuel Pellegrini, started in similar fashion and even won the Premier League in his first season in charge and City’s second in three years but two lacklustre attempts since then cost him his job and City needed someone to spark life into their team. Who better to do this than Guardiola and he has done just that, it took barely three minutes for a rejuvenated Raheem Sterling to be felled by Van Aanholt and Aguero to score the subsequent penalty. A nail biting finish in this game eventually saw City come out on top but the fashion in which they despatched Stoke, West Ham, Bournemouth and Swansea was like watching Barcelona do the same thing in La Liga. They never looked like losing the Manchester derby, a game that was widely tipped to be a title decider, and ultimately exposed the weaknesses in their rivals’ squad as much as displaying their own strengths. Guardiola seems to have found the right formula on the training ground and intelligent signings such as Nolito, Gundogan and Stones have added to an already top class squad. Players such as Sterling, Silva and Kolarov appear to be loving life under Pep and have regained their confidence and are almost like new signings in themselves!

Verdict: Strong favourites

Tottenham Hotspur:

The manner in which Spurs faded away from the title race and ultimately let bitter rivals Arsenal take second place last season was quite worrying and cast doubts over Pochettino’s ability to take Spurs to the top. Sir Alex Ferguson’s endorsement of Pochettino was glowing and he rated him as one of the best managers in Europe and a future title winner and their start to the current season suggests that this might be accurate. Unbeaten after six games and only three goals conceded points to Tottenham being strong contenders. Vincent Janssen has been brought in to provide much needed cover for Harry Kane and the squad as a whole seems settled and is full of young, fresh, hungry players learning their roles together. Their style of play has become synonymous with attacking full backs providing a threat from the wide areas and Kyle Walker is fast becoming one of the best attacking full backs in Europe. If Spurs and Pochettino can work out how to juggle Champions league football and the busy domestic season they look like one of the teams that can challenge City and if it doesn’t happen this year they are only going to get stronger.

Verdict: Perhaps too soon but strong contenders


No title since the ‘Invincibles’ of 2003/04 and a missed opportunity last season in coming second place are two major factors in the fans becoming restless with their team’s fortunes. The pressure is always on Arsene Wenger to succeed and has undoubtedly done so at Arsenal despite having to seemingly rebuild the team every three or four years. This club philosophy at Arsenal has seen them move to a new stadium and become one of the top teams in Europe but the fans demand titles and this season might be the time for Wenger and Arsenal. Contrary to previous seasons Arsenal have kept their key players and look like building up some real momentum with a team full of international talent. There was no shame in the defeat to Liverpool and the draw with champions Leicester seemed to be the final wakeup call that allowed Arsenal to find top gear this season. The fitness of key players such as Sanchez, Ozil and Cazorla is going to be important for their title chances but in Arsene Wenger they have the most experienced manager in this league and could that prove crucial?

Verdict: Always the bridesmaids but will inevitably be contenders


Jurgen Klopp was the perfect fit for Liverpool and has improved everything about them in the 12 months he’s had in charge. Impressive cup runs in the EFL cup and Europa league, resulting in two finals, ultimately provided quite the distraction from league performances last season and an eighth place finish has seen previous managers lose their jobs but the obvious positive reaction from the Anfield faithful and rejuvenated performances on the pitch were enough for Klopp to earn a full season in charge. He and Liverpool have faith and confidence to once again bring success to the red half of Merseyside and their opening performances have proved that this may be tenable. The pressing approach, of which Klopp is a huge advocate, is proving very successful for Liverpool. The flowing interplay and team defense mentality of Mane, Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana is a wonder to behold and with Henderson anchoring everything from deep it seems Liverpool have got the wind in their sails and if they cut out results such as the one against Burnley they could quite conceivably mount a serious title challenge this season.

Verdict: They continue to go from strength to strength, don’t count them out.

Manchester United:

A world record signing, one of the world’s greatest managers at the helm and the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic are just three of the reasons why United fans are more hopeful of their chances this season than the previous three since the retirement of club legend Sir Alex Ferguson after winning his thirteenth title in 2013. Jose Mourinho’s almost untouchable ‘aura of invincibility’ took a bit of a beating last season and he as well as some United players have got a point to prove. Mourinho has got a tough job finding the right players to work in the right systems for United this season after inheriting a somewhat disjointed team and this has been apparent already in the Manchester derby and defeat to Watford however an instant impact from Zlatan and glimpses of world class football in their other games leads us to believe it will not be long before we see United back near the top of the table. The manner in which they despatched champions Leicester was particularly impressive and this was with club captain Wayne Rooney watching from the bench, a typically headstrong decision from Mourinho but if it ultimately proves to be the right one he will once more be heralded a genius.

Verdict: Might just fall short of the ‘noisy neighbours’ again but will do everything to push them to the wire.


Last season was the worst defence of a premier league title ever and the reasons for this could be debated for weeks and still not be fully understood. The manager lost his professionalism, the star players never turned up and ultimately it will be a season that Chelsea want to forget. Antonio Conte is the latest high profile name in the hotseat of the Abramovich project, and nobody could deny that he has the credentials to be a success. A mixed start to the season began with fine victories against West Ham, Watford and Burnley, Hazard and Costa were back to their best and Chelsea were purring but subsequent losses to title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal might arguably have cost them the title already. It is still early in the season however and the quality in the Chelsea squad is abundant, they will not have European football to distract them and once they fully adapt to the new system Conte has installed they are more than capable of going on a title winning run of form.

Verdict: Might just be a season to return to normal after last term’s debacle but must be dark horses.

About the author – Liam Bailes

Liam has been a football fanatic since the early 1990s and continues to be delighted by the sport today. He follows the 5 big European leagues as well as the npower championship and major cup competitions both domestically and internationally. He is an FA level 2 coach and loves to be involved with football at every opportunity.


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It has been three years since Napoli made a huge double-edged statement in a bid to climb back to Italian football’s peak, and again they find themselves at a crossroads.

In the summer of 2013, Rafael Benitez, fresh from success against the tide at Chelsea, and Gonzalo Higuain, looking for regular first team football after a frustrating spell at Real Madrid, arrived in the hope of taking a real challenge to intense rivals Juventus for the scudetto. It never really materialised.

By that point, the Bianconeri had won two successive titles and reasserted themselves at the top after a turbulent decade, mostly centring around the calciopoli match-fixing scandal. Three years on, Napoli, themselves no strangers to off field issues having been declared bankrupt in 2004, are without both Benitez and Higuain and the rebuilding starts again.

Success proved illusive for Benitez before he departed for Real Madrid last year, finishing third and fifth in his two seasons at the Stadio San Paolo, while Higuain came into his own under new boss Maurizio Sarri, netting 36 goals as the Partenopei ran closer than ever, clinching second place.

They may not have the numbers to compete with the likes of Juve, Milan and Inter, but Napoli are a club brimming with history. Their aim, since the glory days of Diego Maradona in the 1980s and early 90s, has always been to get back there, and at times it has looked like they may do, under both Sarri and the man who preceded Benitez, Walter Mazzarri.

But their foes in Turin have proven too strong on many an occasion, and in truth it looks unlikely to change any time soon. Football in Italy has a unique feel, but in Naples fans are not afraid to take extreme measures to show the love for their club. If all is well, the atmosphere is amazing, if not then hostility is ramped up, but either way it is a spectacle to behold.

When Juventus poached Higuain from their grasp, paying a £75million buyout clause in his contract in the closed season, Napoli were stunned, forced to pick over the bones of a shattering blow, while still attempting to continue Sarri’s good work over the coming years.

This is a club for the people, with fans who love a talisman, and that is part of the reason Higuain will never be forgiven. Maradona, Higuain and Edinson Cavani, amongst others, have shouldered the responsibility of bringing success to this most unique of football clubs, but they have changed tactic as they continue to push for as third league title in their history.

Luring Higuain was in direct response to the sale of Cavani, for over £50million, to Paris-Saint Germain. The Argentine provided a guarantee of success given his experience, but his replacement, Arkadiusz Milik, a 22-year-old Polish striker from Ajax, cannot make the same promises. His arrival has very much been part of a theme, too.

Younger players with potential have been recruited to work under Sarri, meaning Napoli are looking further into the future than ever before. Amadou Diawara, Marko Rog and Piotr Zielinski, three other examples, are unlikely to hit the ground running, but the trio of exciting midfielders will go far, given time.

Diawara, a central midfielder signed from Bologna, was chased by a host of European clubs, but forced through a move to Napoli. The 19-year-old Guinean’s growth in Italy has been rapid, enjoying a single stellar campaign in Serie A. His pace, strength and power are typical of a player of his ilk, but his technical abilities set him apart and he should thrive in years to come.

Most impressive about these signings is the versatility between them. Rog is more creative and has an eye for goal. Though he has only signed on loan from Dinamo Zagreb initially, Napoli will be obligated to make the deal permanent for €12.5million come the end of the season. Should he fulfil his potential, that fee will prove a steal, and Rog, 21, could possibly take the mantle as chief playmaker from long–serving midfielder Marek Hamsik.

Liverpool were keen on 22-year-old Polish international winger Zielinski, reportedly failing to lure him from Udinese early in the summer before a deal was struck to keep him in Italy as the transfer deadline ticked closer. Extremely talented with tricks and pace in abundance, at 5 ft 11 he is powerful and strong, offering something different to Dries Maertens out wide. Despite only playing a handful of times in Udine, Zielinski really came into his own on loan at Sarri’s former club Empoli last season, scoring five goals in 35 Serie A games.

Gonzalo Higuain’s exit may cast a dark shadow for Napoli, and their title challenge may be over before it starts in the eyes of some, but with four excellent young players in Milik, Diawara, Rog and Zielinski all moving to the club, something exciting may just be brewing in southern Italy over the coming years.

About the author – Harry De Cosemo

Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish and Italian football. He has worked for a number of top publications including MARCA in English, uMAXIT football, FourFourTwo, Squawka and the Press Association.

twitter: @harrydecosemo

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Whenever a superstar footballer is involved in a transfer, the deal is usually a costly one. As football has developed, the market has too, meaning the more money in the game, the higher the value of a player.

Every summer, it seems to keep increasing, and ‘value’ is relative. Perspective is the most important factor when judging a big money move, because while it can appear a club has paid over the odds, with the pace in which the game moves, there is a fear of being left behind if they don’t act.

It is easy to fall into the trap of taking a player’s ability for granted and assuming they will succeed wherever they go, but they are human beings and nobody is perfect. Factors can take effect and sometimes the hype just isn’t matched on the pitch. Here are ten examples of players failing to justify their high-end fees.

1. Gianluigi Lentini – Torino to AC Milan for £13million, 1992.

At the height of their powers in the late 1980s and early 90s, Milan could do no wrong under Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Cappello. At the forefront of Italian football, the Rossoneri were defensively strong with frightening talent up front, and Lentini was fully expected to compliment the likes of Marco van Basten, while adding a wide option, aided by his phenomenal dribbling skills.

While he remained at the San Siro for four years and winning three Serie A titles and the Champions League under, Lentini never quite reached the heights promised by what at the time was a world record transfer fee. A car crash in 1993 overshadowed his career, and he couldn’t fully recover having fractured his skull and damaged his eye socket aged just 24.

2. Mario Gotze – Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich for £32million, 2013.

There are a lot of achievements in his career that Mario Gotze can rightfully be proud of. In 2014, at the age of 22, he scored the winner for Germany in the World Cup final against Argentina. It was a moment that, had it come a few years later, would probably have defined his career.

But people always expect more, and it is easy to forget Gotze’s age. Having shot to fame at Borussia Dortmund, he appeared to sever all ties with them when he joined Bayern, but three tough years, in which he struggled for regular action under Pep Guardiola, stifled his development.

Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival in place of Manchester City-bound Guardiola didn’t stop the prodigal son returning to the Signal Iduna Park with his tail firmly between his legs earlier this summer.

3. Andriy Shevchenko – AC Milan to Chelsea for £30million, 2006.

Still in it’s infancy, Roman Abramovich’s power and success driven reign at Chelsea reached new heights when the Blues lured perhaps the world’s best striker to Stamford Bridge in 2006, reportedly against the wishes of then boss Jose Mourinho.

Just three years earlier, the Ukrainian hitman had scored the winning penalty in the Champions League final for Milan against Juventus, before missing a similarly huge one at the same stage against Liverpool two years after that.

Overall, he netted 127 goals in 208 Serie A games during seven years at the San Siro, but could score just nine in 48 in two Premier League seasons before returning to the Rossoneri for a failed loan spell.

4. Fernando Torres – Liverpool to Chelsea for £50million, 2011.

In a similar story to Shevchenko, Chelsea swooped for Fernando Torres on deadline day in January 2011, after the Spaniard had lit up Anfield in three and a half years at Liverpool.

His record of 20 league goals in 110 games is not deserving of a £50million player, and he never really hit the form of his days as a Red, but Torres did have some great moments with Chelsea.

En route to winning the Champions League in his first full season, he scored the clinching goal in the semi final against Barcelona.

He’ll be fondly remembered in West London despite his struggles, but fans will be disappointed they never saw the best of him.

5. Radamel Falcao – Atletico Madrid to Monaco for £50million, 2013.

Nicknamed ‘El Tigre’ and probably the man who took Torres’ mantle as the hottest striker on the planet while with Atletico Madrid, Radamel Falcao had his pick of the world’s elite when he departed, having won back to back Europa League titles, first with FC Porto and then Los Rojiblancos, in 2011 and 2012.

But that summer, he surprised the world by choosing to sign for newly-rich Monaco. While his early goal record in the Principality was as prolific as ever, following a record of 52 goals in 68 La Liga games for Atleti, but a serious knee injury a few months later has haunted him since.

Loan moves to Manchester United and Chelsea promised much, but he was never the same player. Now 30, he is back at Monaco looking for anything close to his best form.

6. Denilson – Sao Paulo to Real Betis for £21.5million, 1998.

To break the world transfer record at the age of 18, talent must be unquestionable, and that was the case with former Brazil midfielder Denilson when he joined Real Betis in 1998.

What did raise doubts, however, were his temperament and desire to fulfil his otherworldly potential. Although he earned 60 caps for his country and stayed at Betis for seven years, a move to one of Europe’s truly elite clubs never came, and he ended his career in 2010 having jumped aimlessly from continent to continent.

7. Gaizka Mendieta – Valencia to Lazio for £30million, 2001.

Two successive Champions League final defeats at the beginning of the century had not taken anything away from Gaizka Mendieta, who was the most sought after player around in the summer of 2001.

At the time, Lazio were a huge draw, having won Serie A a year earlier, and they struck a deal to bring Mendieta to Rome. But after making 230 league appearances at the Mestalla, he only racked up 20 in three years at the Stadio Olympico, while also taking loan spells at Barcelona and Middlesbrough at that time.

8. Robinho – Real Madrid to Manchester City for £32.5million, 2008.

Throughout the summer of 2008, Robinho was a target for Chelsea and so desperately wanted to leave the Santiago Bernabeu and Real Madrid.

As is becoming more and more typical, the saga rolled on all summer but the Blues couldn’t clinch a deal. On the final day of the summer transfer window, Manchester City were taken over by Sheikh Mansour, and with money to burn stole in to sign the 24-year-old.

But Robinho himself didn’t know who he had signed for when asked for his thoughts on international duty, claiming he thought he’d joined Chelsea after all.

That really set the tone. Brilliant in places but only netting twice away from home in his debut season, he was shipped on loan to Santos after 18 months before being sold to AC Milan.

9. Juan Sebastian Veron – Lazio to Manchester United for £28million, 2001.

While the Red Devils have entered the market for established superstars more since Sir Alex Ferguson, the capture of Veron was arguably the last true showing of their financial muscle in comparison to others.

Another of the most wanted in the world, Veron arrived with a huge reputation as an Argentina international. Technique and composure on the ball were no problem but the pace and physicality of the English game was too much for him. He was sold to Chelsea in the early Abramovich days for £15million.

10. Kaka – AC Milan to Real Madrid for £58million, 2009.

Some players earn the right to break the world transfer record, and Kaka was certainly one of them. Still riding the wave from his Ballon d’Or win in 2007, having inspired Milan to the Champions League that year, he became a new Galactico in Madrid president Florentino Perez’s second spell at the helm.

He promised much, obviously, but injuries and a lack of the big personality desired to succeed in the Spanish capital, and he eventually returned to Milan before joining Orlando City in MLS via a loan spell at Sao Paulo.

About the author – Harry De Cosemo

Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish and Italian football. He has worked for a number of top publications including MARCA in English, uMAXit football, FourFourTwo, Squawka and the Press Association.

twitter: @harrydecosemo


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This year’s summer transfer window looks set to be yet another transitional period for Liverpool, as the club looks to implement the ways of their new manager Jurgen Klopp. The objective for the next season is clear – return to the Champions League. However, that might prove to be the toughest job Klopp has ever had in his entire managerial career.

What follows are the five simple steps that could potentially return Liverpool to the Champions League.

5) Sell Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho

When Jurgen Klopp took over Liverpool, Martin Skrtel quickly fell down the pecking order due to his inconsistency and troubling injuries, but he may now be gone for good, considering rumors that Besiktas is reportedly ready to offer as much as €9m to acquire his services. With Joel Matip already lined up to join Liverpool, it’s hard to see the Reds rejecting this sizeable offer.

Meanwhile, Mamadou Sakho should also be heading for the exit door this summer – and rightly so. Although his initial suspension has recently been lifted, Sakho is yet to stand trial for his reported substance abuse and the outcome is still anyone’s guess.

As far as Liverpool goes, the damage is already done and they might as well part ways with the talented center-back. This summer will represent the start of a new era for the Reds and they should be looking to avoid any potential controversy surrounding the team.

4) Sign a center-back

If Klopp decides to sell Skrtel and Sakho, he will be left with a gaping hole in the heart of his defense, which should undoubtedly prompt him to sign a new center-back. The aforementioned Joel Matip is a smart addition to the Liverpool backline, but the Reds will need at least one more defender in order to challenge for the top four.

Unsurprisingly, Neven Subotic has been linked with Liverpool ever since Klopp took over and it is not hard to see why the rumored transfer would suit all parties involved. Dortmund no longer need Subotic in their starting lineup and he will therefore be looking for a summer move. A reunion with Klopp might be the perfect solution for the towering Serbian center-back who was at his best when Klopp was in charge of Dortmund and in return, Liverpool could get a decent center-back in a cut-price deal.

Finally, if there is anyone who can help Subotic regain confidence in his abilities, it is Klopp and Liverpool should be trying to close this deal as soon as possible.

Read all about Liverpool target Mahmoud Dahoud in our Future Stars series

3) Sign a left-back

When Alberto Moreno joined Liverpool in 2014, many were hoping he would solve the left-back problem that has haunted almost every Liverpool side in the last 10 years.

The former Sevilla defender impressed in his early performances, but soon enough the honeymoon period was over and Moreno started struggling to recreate the heroics that dubbed him one of the most promising Liverpool players.

His forward runs may have left the Reds defense unprotected on numerous occasions, but it was his tendency to crumble under pressure that made him the biggest liability in the Liverpool starting XI. Klopp consequently tried moving Moreno further upfield and the Spaniard’s performances improved noticeably. However, that leaves the left-back position vacant once more.

As if Liverpool needed any more reason to find a new defender, Jose Enrique recently left Anfield, meaning that the Reds are now well out of their depth in the left-back spot.

FC Koln’s Jonas Hector could be the answer to the current Liverpool left-back problem, but his steep price tag (reportedly around €30m) might eventually put off the Reds. Nevertheless, if Liverpool truly want to challenge the top four next year, they will need to spend a lot this summer and Hector should be one of their priorities.

2) Do not sell Philippe Coutinho

This might seem like a no-brainer for most Liverpool fans, but the club might be tempted to sell Philippe Coutinho as Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly ready to offer €60m for the skillful Brazilian.

However, under no circumstances can Liverpool afford to lose their star player right now. If they decide to cash in on Coutinho, their position in the transfer market will be severely damaged and they might miss out on a number of transfer targets due to a simple lack of appeal.

Keeping Coutinho for at least one more year would be a strong statement of intent from the club and it might eventually prove to be the decisive move in the upcoming season.

1) Sign a defensive midfielder

It is common knowledge that Liverpool desperately need a holding midfielder who can bring some stability and consistency to the current side.

At the moment, Emre Can is covering the defensive midfield position for the Reds, but it is clear that he is far more suitable to play further upfront as a central midfielder. Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen and James Milner are all players that can fill the necessary role, but neither of them is a natural holding midfielder, which was more than evident in their recent Europa League final. Lucas Leiva, meanwhile, is well past his peak and can no longer perform regularly.

That means Liverpool will have to sign a new defensive midfielder and Mahmoud Dahoud has already been tipped to join Liverpool this year. The youngster would be the perfect signing for Klopp, but it might be hard to pursue Borussia Monchengladbach to part ways with another midfielder following the departure of Granit Xhaka.

Nuri Sahin is another possible solution for Klopp, but it remains to be seen whether the player would like to return to a club that treated him poorly during his previous, temporary stay at Anfield a few years ago.

About the author – Dusan Lucic

Dusan has been writing sports-related article for 5 years and has a keen interest in the Premier League, Bundesliga and Serbian SuperLiga. He has previously written for Bleacher report, Arena sport,  Sportal and The News Hub. He is currently studying Serbian language and literature at the university of Belgrade.


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How important is the identity of a football club? It’s a tough question to quantify and even tougher to answer when sentiment is concerned. With passions raised in south west London and Milton Keynes as AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons squared off in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy last season, we examine how important the identity of a football club is commercially in terms of the business model and, more importantly, for the fans.

The first football match I ever went to was a Wimbledon game at Plough Lane many years ago. They were my local club and even when they moved to Selhurst Park I’d watch the original Dons in the halcyon days of Efan Ekoku, Hans Segers and Dean Holdsworth. What always impressed outsiders with Wimbledon was their identity: the Crazy Gang. Unperturbed by the incessant chants of ‘”long ball”, the Dons stuck to their footballing principles of direct, aggressive football under the stewardship of Joe Kinnear. These were the days when Kinnear was an astute, switched-on manager – a far cry from his demise in recent years.

It may not have been the prettiest football, but it never needed to be; Wimbledon had their identity, it worked and they loved it. Moreover, their local legion of fans embraced the club for what it was: small, in touch with the local area, and fearless. Their identity was set and every fan embraced what the club stood for as it forged its identity over a significant period of time.

When Wimbledon became MK Dons in 2004 the old identity was perhaps lost forever. MK Dons have never attempted to recreate the previous identity as history and geography play such a crucial role in the formation of a club’s soul. The Wombles and Wimbledon Common were impossible to recreate in Milton Keynes and the MK Dons were perhaps left with an empty vessel in terms of their identity.

A trip to the Stadium MK is a telling story; quiet, devoid of age-old chants, and at times passionless. This is certainly not a slight on the local supporters that will embrace the new clubs identity when it’s forged over a significant period of time. Perhaps one day MK Dons will have created their own identity that is synonymous with the Milton Keynes area as well as their unique style of play.

The question that leaves is, what have AFC Wimbledon been left with? Is it possible to recreate the identity of defunct club? AFC Wimbledon fans will tell you that the club has the heart and soul of the original Crazy Gang but in reality that is something that won’t ever be recreated.

Firstly, the fan base at AFC is from a different era – younger, vibrant and looking for a different style of play to what Wimbledon offered in the 1990s. It’s hard to imagine that today’s crop would embrace the original style of play in this era of tiki taka football. Secondly, no matter how hard AFC try, they won’t ever be the Crazy Gang. The players are different, the academy is different, those in charge are different; the soul of the club is not the same. The club itself has irrevocably changed.

However, one thing will fill the AFC fans with hope and positivity for the future – they created the soul of a football club once before, and they can most certainly do it again. It will take time but AFC Wimbledon can once again be an important institution in south west London. Furthermore, and crucially, south west London wants a Wimbledon competing at the highest level again.

Identity is everything to fan. It’s what they associate much of their footballing philosophy with. But what about in terms of commerce: can a club’s identity impact business opportunities? The key factor will of course be success on the pitch. Trophies will always attract the greatest number of followers off the pitch and consequently the highest bidders for advertising and sponsorship.

Lets take the example of Real Madrid, consistently the world’s richest club and most impressive in terms of commercial performance. For ten years their success has been sporadic and, without a Champions League trophy between 2002 and 2014, one would assume their monetary power would be impacted.

The reality is that over time Real Madrid has become an institution, not a club. They have an identity that boasts success, power and talent. Perhaps this originates from the days of Franco and the Madrid political powerhouse, but the powerful identity remains. They attract a global following and commercial sales that remain intact in spite of baron eras on the pitch.

This is because the identity is historic and one that oozes success. As a result, sponsors will often queue up outside the Bernabeu to have their name printed on the shirt or around the stadium; they want their brand associated with the image of success, even if tangible success isn’t forthcoming. In Real’s case, their identity is everything to a sponsor and their continued financial clout.

Perhaps the same can be applied to Liverpool. Underachievement on the pitch has plagued the club for over two decades now, yet they retain impressive sponsorship deals globally due to their history and identity as a local, historic, family club. The examples of Real and Liverpool suggest history plays a key role in ensuring the identity of club sparks commercial interest.

Chelsea and Manchester City will of course counter this argument as short-term success is always going to be a sure-fire way to attract sponsors. These clubs also have strong historic identities among their fans, but the attraction for sponsors is built on their short-term success on the pitch, not over time. If the Chelsea and City star should wane, it’s hard to imagine that sponsors will be queuing up so freely outside their doors. They weren’t there before, after all.

Yet Real and Liverpool show that in spite of underachievement on the pitch, their clubs possess an identity of success that is synonymous with its fans – rightly or wrongly. Juventus are also a great example – relegation and the Calciopoli scandal has not blighted their attraction to a sponsor and they still have enough income to justify the highest transfer and wage spend in Serie A.

The identity of a football club is, in essence, the very heart of a club. While the commercial boom of a club is vital to its potential triumph on the pitch, the key issue for fans is the identity within the stands. Most supporters will agree that their club’s identity is forged over a period of time, and they would be right.

That’s why AFC Wimbledon is not yet the local Wimbledon of years gone by. They will, almost certainly, be that club one day, but identities are forged over many years of loyalty in the stands, ups and down on the pitch, and among the hordes of fans that give their heart and soul and bit by bit make up the identity of a football club. It takes time, but that identity will live far longer than the period it took to build.

Most importantly, for longevity of success at least, a good identity will bring commercial opportunities and result in the formation of a powerhouse that will exist even when underachievement is prevalent. The identity of a football club, at the top and the bottom, is absolutely everything, and often the greatest measure of success.

About the author – Omar Saleen

Based in London, Omar is the editor-in-chief at These Football Times. A professional coach by day having worked at clubs including Fulham, QPR and Red Bull New York, he also writes freelance for a number of outlets.

twitter: @omar_saleem


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You don’t have to be a native Dutch speaker to have enjoyed the video featuring Dirk Kuyt and his children that was circulated across the internet in the summer.

In the 90 second-long clip, the former Liverpool forward reveals that he is returning to Feyenoord, the club he represented for three years between 2003 and 2006 and whom his kids support, following his exit from Turkish side Fenerbahce. Kuyt’s sons and daughter are visibly delighted by the news, just as the thousands of fans who gathered at the De Kuip stadium for his official presentation also were.

“One of the disappointing things from my first spell is that I never won a trophy,” the 35-year-old told those who had flocked to the ground on a warm July day. “I certainly have the ambition to do that this time. Feyenoord’s financially difficult period is behind us, and a very talented team has been put together.”

The statement went down well, but no-one could have expected Kuyt to make the impact that he has. At the time of writing, only Ajax’s Luuk de Jong (13) has scored more goals in the Eredivisie than the ex-Netherlands international’s 11, with Kuyt’s strikes playing a big part in Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side’s rise to second place, just three points behind Frank de Boer’s Ajax outfit. There is growing hope in Rotterdam that the club could end their long 17-year wait for a league title this term.

Kuyt has always been known as a team player, someone who is willing to put a shift in for his manager and sacrifice himself for the collective. Such an attitude saw him regularly deployed out on the flank for Liverpool, where he could be relied upon to track back defensively, and he even spent time playing as a wing-back at international level in Louis van Gaal’s 3-5-2 formation at the World Cup last year.

At Feyenoord, though, he has always been known as a prolific marksman. In his first spell at the club, Kuyt netted 83 times in 122 appearances in all competitions and finished as the Eredivisie top scorer in 2004/05 with 29 goals, beating the likes of Salomon Kalou, Arouna Kone, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Jan Venegoor of Hesselink to the prize.

After nine years away, Kuyt has simply picked up from where he left off, with memorable hat-tricks claimed against Heerenveen and AZ within the space of a week in late October. He may now be 35, but Kuyt remains extremely fit: he has played every minute of Feyenoord’s 14 Eredivisie encounters this season, as well as two full domestic cup games.

He has brought more than just goals to the team, too: the captain leads by example from the top of the pitch, working tirelessly with and without the ball and encouraging his team-mates to do the same. The adoration within which he is held on the terraces provides an invaluable link between squad and supporters, while his vast experience is of great benefit to his many younger colleagues.

Ajax and PSV remain favourites to lift the Eredivisie title in May, but with Kuyt rolling back the years at De Kuip, Feyenoord are daring to dream again.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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At the start of October, Liverpool’s imposing central defender, Mamadou Sakho, vented his frustration towards Brendan Rodgers, who refused to hand the Frenchman a start in Liverpool’s opening five matches of the season.

“Let’s say that during the short period when I was not playing, I was like a little caged lion who has not fed for a while,” he told L’Equipe.

“(Like a caged lion) when you open the door, he charges.”

Although it’s never pleasant to see a manager lose his job, Sakho would’ve quietly been thinking the sacking of Rodgers should provide the perfect platform for him to nail down a starting berth with the Reds.

If the early indications of the Jurgen Klopp era are anything to go by, he looks every chance to cement his spot in the heart of the Reds defence.

Against Tottenham at White Hart Lane, in Klopp’s first game in charge of the Merseyside outfit, Sakho, from his left sided central defensive station, repaid the German tactician’s faith to start him by putting in an outstanding shift that was full of upside.

Sakho, a much derided figure in recent times, undertook his duties with a palpable sense of authority, conviction and command, in a game where Liverpool crucially kept a clean sheet.

Charged with marking Spurs’ superbly talented centre forward, Harry Kane, Sakho performed his duty wondrously well. Whenever the pair were engaged in 1v1 situations, the physicality and sheer strength of the former PSG man shone through, as he hardly allowed Kane any joy.

In aerial duels, Sakho used his power and hulking frame to out-jump and outmuscle the lanky Kane, who struggled to find answers to the robust manner in which Sakho defends.

Even in scenarios where Kane would drop deep searching to link midfield and attack, Sakho would track him vigorously and heap pressure on his adversary to ensure that whenever Kane received the ball he never had an easy touch. This worked very nicely indeed, for Sakho’s relentless harrying impeded Kane’s time and freedom to make good, clear decisions once in possession, which he so often does in such instances.

In addition, the 25-year-old defender used his blistering covering speed to get across and support his teammates effectively. Being able to rapidly jet across the turf and cut out potentially dangerous attacks acted as something of a safety blanket for his team and provided another reason why his athleticism is so valuable to Liverpool. Alberto Moreno and Martin Skrtel were the predominant beneficiaries of this, and while they’ll be hoping to limit the occasions when Sakho is required to do this, they’d surely be comforted by the fact that, if they’re beaten, Sakho will more often than not mop up behind them.

In a positional sense, Sakho was nigh on flawless, hardly putting a foot wrong throughout. He showed a high level of discipline and concentration, which ensured he was never caught out by the multifaceted Tottenham attack. Such diligence in his duties saw him, when he wasn’t monitoring Kane, astutely pick up Spurs wingers Erik Lamela and Clinton N’Jie, when they drifted inside, plus he assisted in marking the intelligent Christian Eriksen when he looked to occupy zones in front of the Liverpool defence.

Another aspect of the Frenchman’s strong body of work that deserved mention came by way of his peristent communication with his colleagues. Showing his great leadership qualities, Sakho intently shouted and gestured to his midfielders and fellow defenders on where to best position themselves to deal with Tottenham’s attacking forays.

Sakho, who calls himself a “Liverpool soldier”, certainly lived up to his own billing, for his imposing and influential performance underlined what a vital component of Klopp’s side he should be.

The former Borussia Dortmund manager was straight onto the pitch after the final whistle to congratulate his lynchpin on a fine afternoon’s work, demonstrating his clear appreciation of Sakho’s display.

By the numbers, Sakho stacked up beautifully too, successfully completing nine of nine clearances, one tackle, three interceptions and bravely blocking two shots, as per StatsZone.

All things considered, after Sakho’s extremely accomplished effort, it’s somewhat baffling to reflect back and ponder why Rodgers under utilised his colossal stopper.

After all, upon analysing Liverpool’s central defenders, he’s quite possibly the best man in his position, with only Skrtel near him. With Dejan Lovren now playing like a shadow of his former self, Joe Gomez unfortunately out injured, Emre Can featuring in Klopp’s midfield and Kolo Toure an adequate backup, there’s absolutely no reason why Sakho shouldn’t be a mainstay at the back.

Another big challenge awaits Sakho this weekend in the form of Southampton’s burly, in-form forward, Graziano Pelle. The Italian international, while not as athletic as Kane, will pose a stronger physical obstacle for Sakho, who’ll surely relish this battle and see the clash as another opportunity to impress his new manager.

When recently speaking to Liverpool’s official website, Sakho touched upon the new found sense of positivity that’s surrounded the club with the Klopp appointment, saying: “It’s very good. All of the team feel the same. It’s a new manager, a new mentality, new training – everything is new.

“We have to adapt and we are ready to listen to what he says. He is here to help the team and to help every player and he wants to give 100 per cent for the club.”

Having put in another solid performance against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League, it’s great to see the stars aligning once again for Sakho.

It’ll be fascinating to see how things pan out for him under Klopp from now on, and the Southampton game will be another stern examination.

If he can keep up his promising form then Liverpool should have themselves a wildly gifted defender who should lead the club for many years to come.

Only time will tell if this will, in fact, be the case, but one thing’s for sure, and that’s that Sakho will be given every chance to earn his stripes under the expert tutelage of Jurgen Klopp. And for the man who possesses just about all the ingredients necessary to be a high quality defender, there’s no reason why he can’t do just that.

About the author – Edward Stratmann

Edward Stratmann writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game, with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring on These Football Times, Inside Spanish Football, Anfield Index, Just Football, The Eagles Beak, Think Football Ideas and JuveFC, you can also find Edward’s work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he started with his brother in 2013.

twitter: @licencetoroam


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Jurgen Klopp’s infectious enthusiasm and energy make him the Heart, but it is Željko Buva? who is definitely the Brains. Together they make the perfect combination.

It’s an exciting time to be a Liverpool fan. The arrival of Jurgen Klopp has caused quite a stir and restored the faith at Anfield. The German manager is a brand, and his appointment has been seen as a clear message by the Liverpool board – Reds are aiming for the top.

Behind all the excitement there stood a problem. Liverpool wanted to keep Brendan Rodgers’ first-team staff and Sean O’Driscoll, Gary McAllister, Glen Driscool and Chris Davies were all seen as the stumbling block during the negotiations with Klopp who insisted on brining his own men. Do not attribute it to his stubbornness, it is quite simple – Klopp can not function without his people.

Best known member of Klopp’s backroom staff is definitely Željko Buva?.

Bosnian Serb born in Prijedor is not the man of many words. “I talk only when I have something to say”, Buva? said in what has perhaps been his only public statement so far. Perhaps it is a secret to his successful cooperation with his long-time friend, chatty and more verbal Jurgen Klopp. The pair played together in Mainz in the ’90s when they became inseparable friends and confidants, two ‘telepathically’ connected individuals.

“Željko is the epiphany of football reason. I learn from him every day. He is a football genius, a master of every practice drill”, Klopp used to say about his assistant.

Buva? has been working alongside Klopp for the past 14 years. Liverpool manager ended his career at 33 as the Mainz player, immediately taking reins of the only club he ever played for in his career. Klopp was anxious and scared to jump from the pitch straight on to the bench so he called his best friend to join him, and honoured the agreement the two had made – the first one to land a managerial job would bring the other to work with him. Three years of playing together with Buva? were more than enough for the pair to form an unbreakable bond.

Klopp is not ashamed to confess his every decision has to be approved by Buva?. Jurgen himself calls Željko ‘the brain’ and it was the Serb who has been credited for developing that recognizable high-speed attacking football at Borussia Dortmund which propelled Jurgen Klopp to stardom. Influence and significance of his faithful assistant have never been hidden from the public.

In fact, former BVB player Miloš Jovi? who was brought from Partizan in 2014 explained that Klopp’s first words to him were about Željko Buva?.

“He is the brain, I am the stomach. Those were the first words Klopp told me upon arrival to Dortmund. Jurgen is the one who does the talking, but Željko is the engine. They form a formidable duo”, said the Serbian midfielder.

During Klopp’s touchline suspension in 2013 when former Borussia Dortmund manager was sent of against Napoli for berating the fourth official Nuri Sahin described the pair as ‘twins’, claiming there was no difference between them in practice when Buva? took over all of the responsibilities.

“Both of them see football the same way”, he said in a testimony to pair’s vision and philosophy that has yielded some remarkable results.

Klopp and Buva? won the total of six trophies during their time in Dortmund. Back-to-back Bundesliga titles were obtained in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, along with the DFB Pokal title in the same year. Klopp’s Dortmund also won three DFL Supercups in 2008, 2013 and 2014. Most regretted results has perhaps been the defeat in Champions League final to Bayern Munich in 2012-13, but Klopp and Buva?’s tenure at Dortmund had been nothing short of amazing.

The story of two friends is filled with Shakespearean romance and will most certainly be a good addition to all the hype and atmosphere created around the Liverpool’s charismatic manager. As a club whose stature was build upon the values that are hard to find in contemporary football, Liverpool are the perfect place for Buva? and Klopp, modern-day football’s Robin Hood and Little John.

About the author – Miloš Markovic

Sports journalist from Serbia, Editor in Cheif at and contributor to FutbolgradLive. Worked with Inforstrada and FIFA covering Serbia’s international games during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

twitter: @milosemarkovicu


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Jordan Henderson just can’t win over the majority it seems. To some, he can’t pass, can’t dribble and doesn’t have a fixed position. He has underwhelmed for England, doesn’t really offer much in defence and was captain of the national under-21 side that was comprehensively dismantled at the European Championships in 2013. How could he ever be worth £20 million?

The armchair fan lives to fight another day. With Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson in his sights and a disdain for modern football, his argument rages on. Except this is no theoretical debate; this is the raging debate between most Liverpool fans and their counterparts that don’t watch the Anfield club on a regular basis.

It seems to be a running theme among opposition fans that the young midfielder isn’t worthy of a place in Liverpool and England’s team. It’s yet another example of English football’s insanity and some fans’ desire to write off young talent before it has had a chance to fully mature.

It’s pointless going into the argument of why countless England fans seem to want to shoot down the nation’s best young players – that’s another article in itself – but let’s focus on why Hendo is in fact one of the Premier League’s most effective midfielders and most underrated team men.

To understand the numerous facets to the Sunderland-born midfielder’s game, it’s perhaps wise to look into his past. Henderson was captain of every Sunderland side – whose academy he joined aged 11 – from under-14 up. It offers a telling insight into the maturity of a player who was so widely misunderstood when he made his breakthrough at the Black Cats.

At academy level he was an all-action central midfielder, capable of bursting into the box and one of the younger proponents of a dying art: the box-to-box midfielder. As Yaya Toure and Aaron Ramsey revitalize a position that had declined for a period time in English football, Jordan Henderson is brilliantly regressing back to his natural role at Anfield.

Rewind back to Sunderland and it was with a tremendous fanfare that the midfielder, who was operating behind a lone striker or off the right flank, was called up by England manager Fabio Capello. He was the new light in attacking midfield, and for many fans that hadn’t seen him play the praise among the tabloids, chat forums and social media was enough.

Therefore it was a surprise when they did. The Ozil-esque, technically perfect attacking midfielder was nowhere to be seen. Instead a shy workman with simple ideas and a laidback mentality was on show. For many, it was the moment Jordan Henderson was written off.

Like many on their England debut, he had a quiet game. The hype surrounding his inclusion was disproportionate to his performances in the North East and while Sunderland were playing good football at times under Steve Bruce, he wasn’t even their main man. He was the club’s Young Player of the Season for two years running (2009 and 2010), but what does that really mean?

The boo-boys and the choir that supported them truly stepped out from behind the sofa when Henderson made his long-awaited move away from the Stadium of Light.

Anfield was his next destination, in June 2011, as he sought to further his career at the Merseyside giants. It’s strange to think that Henderson signed for Liverpool over four years ago – it certainly doesn’t feel that long. Perhaps it’s testament to how he’s settled into the ethos of the club and the work he’s put in to become a vital cog in the Brendan Rodgers era.

The reported fee was £20 million as Liverpool fought off competition from Manchester United and Tottenham to secure pen-to-paper. Unfortunately for Henderson, the fee, and Damien Comolli’s British Revolution at Anfield, was to weigh heavy early on.

He came in at the same time as Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll and Charlie Adam – players who have since left the club after failing to deliver on a consistent basis.

Without knowing much about the midfielder’s strengths, fans expected a number of things that he couldn’t deliver. Much like Lucas before him, some sections of the home support grew tired with the outlay on Henderson and the all-too simplistic performances. It was these very fans that have been turned as the 25-year-old continues to swim against the tide in wider scope of English football.

It takes time to settle at Anfield, much like any big club. Jordan Henderson is an example above all else.

In the case of Lucas Leiva, it was more an issue of football’s pace in England that forced him to struggle in his first 18 months. There was little question about his ability once he picked up the speed of the game in England and settled into the holding role.

For Henderson, pace was never an issue. It was merely adjusting to the quality of talent around him. Luis Suarez’s runs couldn’t be compared to Kenwyne Jones’. Playing with Steven Gerrard was a world-away from sitting alongside Lee Cattermole. And working on Philippe Coutinho’s wavelength took some learning, unlike Stephane Sessegnon’s.

Make no mistake, this isn’t a slight on the aforementioned players; they all offer a variety of skills, particularly Cattermole, but comparisons between them and Liverpool’s top players are redundant. As a result Henderson began his learning process again. It’s a process that was conducted under difficult circumstances. Let’s not forget he was in an underachieving Liverpool team that showed little signs of progression, and a leaky back line.

Operating on the right also stunted his early progress. The traditional view is that Anfield has long missed a byline winger. Even Dirk Kuyt – for me one of football’s most underrated players – was much maligned for his inability to beat the man and play with directness and pace.

Isn’t it funny then that Henderson, now with some of the most impressive stats in the Premier League and captain of the club at just 25, still operates off the right side, albeit tucked-in slightly more than previously.

The Brendan Rodgers system has changed everything for England man and highlights the difficulty, and conversely the ease, some players have in adapting to specific formations. It’s often not the manager or the player’s fault that they can’t perform; it’s just not a compatible match.

Fortunately for Henderson, his role on the inside right of the midfield has helped him play his natural game. Along the way he’s highlighted the indispensible quality that his energy has given the team, while also forging a career at Anfield that looks like it will continue for a numbers of years. His stats last season back that up.

As a midfielder he’ll be looked at for his passing and distribution above all else, so what better place to start? In spite of completing 1.8 key passes per game and 3.1 long balls, his pass success rate stands at an excellent 84%. Factor in the crowded midfields in the Premier League and his often-advanced position in the attack, and the numbers take on a higher significance. Nine assists are nothing to be scoffed at either.

Furthermore, he’s averaging 1.4 shots per game, a solid return for a midfielder who covers as much ground as he does. With the added responsibility as captain, he’ll need to add goals to his game as the close proximity of teams at the top of the league can be widened by a few telling goals from unlikely sources. Henderson can provide them.

Perhaps his most telling contribution, aside from his distribution, comes in the defensive phase. He averages a outstanding 2.5 tackles per game. That’s more than Michael Carrick (1.4), Ramires (1.2), James McCarthy (2.3), Yaya Toure (1), Nabil Bentaleb (2.3), Cesc Fabregas (2.4) and Aaron Ramsey (2).

In the case of Toure, Fabregas and Ramsey, we’re talking about midfielders who are seasoned internationals and widely considered to be the best box-to-box midfielders in English football. His offensive stats stand up against most of the aforementioned too; only Yaya Toure is ahead, although he’s streets ahead of most players let alone Henderson.

Further to his tackles per game, he averages 1.7 clearances and one interception. Stats, it goes without saying, aren’t everything, and the intangible factors like ground covered and areas pressed are hard to acquire information on. Suffice to say, he’s always pushing forward in Rodgers high-pressing game yet providing ample cover to the central midfielders and right-sided full-back.

Attitude is a huge part of ‘The Liverpool Way’. Dirk Kuyt was often revered by those who attend Anfield far more than those who don’t. It was his attitude, hunger and unwavering desire to leave the pitch having contributed something that endeared him to the Kop. He wasn’t flashy, silky or even typically Dutch but he was more than just a footballer.

It’s this sense of belonging and wanting to impact on a game that is the greatest improvement in Jordan Henderson’s game, above even the stats. The shy, quiet lad from the North East has been replaced with a decisive, mature England international who finally believes in his considerable ability.

Liverpool now boast a player who is quickly beginning to repay the initial outlay. Next up for Liverpool’s number 14 is a fight for his place as a regular in the heart of England’s midfielder at Euro 2016. He will need to take his Anfield form to Wembley on a consistent basis, scoring goals and laying on a few to be considered worthy of a regular place in midfield – especially with the likes of Ross Barkley and Fabian Delph in the mix.

He’s arguably the most improved midfielder in the English game, alongside the aforementioned Delph, and his stats back that up. Some have more assists, others more goals, but few can lay claim to a greater all-round impact. Barring one strong season, he has also been riddled with mediocre performances around him, particularly in defence.

Only time will tell whether he can kick on again and contribute goals in a Liverpool team struggling at both ends of the pitch. Until then, Henderson’s journey is only just beginning in a season that promises much for his employers – and even more in the white of England. The key now is consistency at the highest level and remaining fit. If he manages that, England may well boast one of the game’s most effective midfielders in the heart of their central three come the Euros.

About the author – Omar Saleen

Based in London, Omar is the editor-in-chief at These Football Times. A professional coach by day having worked at clubs including Fulham, QPR and Red Bull New York, he also writes freelance for a number of outlets.

twitter: @omar_saleem


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