Liverpool FC: A Captaincy Conundrum?

Ever since the departure of Steven Gerrard in 2015, the shadow of the captaincy has hung over Liverpool Football Club. Since then, Jordan Henderson’s captaincy has seen at best a mixed response from fans, but is there really a better option in the Liverpool squad? Should someone else get the armband for next season? Well, let’s find out.

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Jordan Henderson

Like it or not (and many do not), Jordan Henderson is the current captain of Liverpool Football Club. But some of the criticism against him is unwarranted. You only had to see him sprint down to the tunnel in a full suit to congratulate the team after the Man City win to realise that he is very much a leader in the dressing room. Unlike some other members of the team (*cough* Emre Can *cough*) he has shouldered the responsibility of the armband without it adversely affecting his game. He has had a poor season so far, yes, but ultimately that seems more to do with playing in the unfamiliar number 6 role when his true strength is as a box-to-box midfielder. His seniority in the team matches this, as he is one of only 4 players left over from our title-tilt of 2013/14. Given the other three take the form of a still talented but ultimately crocked striker, an inconsistent goalkeeper who cries transfer after being taken out of the side and… well… Jon Flanagan, Henderson is clearly Liverpool’s most senior player.

The main argument against Henderson however, is how often he is celebrating from the stands instead of leading the team to victory on the pitch. Last night’s 25-minute display was Henderson’s first appearance in over a month, in a career that has seen frequent interruptions through injury. Can Liverpool afford to have a captain who is on the treatment table so often? Well in a word, yes. Of the rest of the top six captains, only Hugo Lloris (Spurs – 66%) and Gary Cahill (Chelsea – 71%) have played a higher % of competitive games than Henderson (63%). You could almost be forgiven for forgetting that Kompany and Carrick are the captains of their respective sides. So, injury layoffs aren’t an issue for other teams, why should they be for us?

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James Milner

Current vice-captain James Milner is undoubtedly the most successful and experienced member of the Liverpool squad at the top level. He has 2 Premier League winner’s medals after all, and this experience is crucial in terms of developing an elite mentality among the players which we seem to have lost in recent years. Add that to the fact that he was a crucial member of the squad last season, with 36 league starts and 7 goals all coming from the unfamiliar position of left-back, and Milner would seem a shoe-in.

However, this season things have changed. Moreno has come back from the brink and Robertson has burst on to the scene with impressive form, so no chances at left-back. Competition in midfield has increased too with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s run of good form and will do so further with Naby Keita’s arrival in the summer, meaning Milner’s role has decreased significantly. Milner has made less appearances than Henderson this season and he hasn’t even been injured, with only 8 league starts and 11 appearances from the bench. Where does he fit in the team?

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Emre Can

When he arrived in 2014, many saw Can as Gerrard’s heir apparent given his aggressive style and prodigious talent at such a young age. Since then he has developed into one of our best midfielders, a strong, aggressive player who excels in the big games (though he does have the occasional howler). He is also probably our best DM, at least until Henderson gets his positioning sorted.

However, he can’t wear the armband if he isn’t here, a prospect that looks increasingly likely. Can isn’t willing to commit to the club, so why should he get the armband? Well he shouldn’t. Plus, he appears to be a player unable to successfully take on the burden: he has captained 2 matches and has been woeful in both. You may remember them: Swansea and West Brom. No thank you Mr Can.

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Roberto Firmino

If there is one player who defines the term “Lead by Example” it is Bobby Firmino. Seemingly unable to get injured with the 2nd highest appearances in the squad, Firmino is enjoying his best season at Liverpool by some way. Bobby is arguably our most important player and his work-rate makes it often seem like Liverpool have an extra man or two on the field. This season has seen great improvement in “tangible” contributions too – 17 goals and 8 assists this season have seen Firmino establish himself in the number 9 role, where before this season even his most fervent supporters weren’t sure he was well suited enough. Remember all those calls for a top, 20-goal striker in the summer? Whoops.

Henderson’s biggest weakness is Bobby’s biggest strength and given his importance to the team he seems an ideal fit for the armband. In fact, given Coutinho’s departure some have suggested Firmino be given the armband as an added incentive to stay. However, we cannot comment on his leadership in the dressing room and his quiet nature in interviews may work against him. “Lead by Example” can only go so far.

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Adam Lallana

Everyone, myself included, had forgotten about Adam Lallana until a few weeks ago. He’s by no means a Bogdan or Markovic, but the point remains that he has been injured for so long (and now potentially even until March) that we had forgotten Lallana’s quality and importance. He is, on balance, our most technically gifted midfielder and when fit is a mainstay in the First XI. Last season was one of his best, with a strong return of 8 goals and 7 assists from midfield. He has history with the armband too remember, having worn it on several occasions at Southampton. Once he returns from this extended spell on the sidelines, he could certainly establish himself as a front runner for the position of captain.

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Virgil van Dijk

“But he’s only been here a few weeks?” – who actually cares? For starters this is working from the end of this season so van Dijk would’ve been here half a year already. Plus, he has experience with the armband, having worn it for just under a year at Southampton. He has already shown his big game pedigree (that header against Everton anyone?) and he has also shown himself to be a defensive leader (not an instant fix, but still a vast improvement), barking orders at his centre back partners and goalkeepers.

Klopp clearly values seniority however, so despite van Dijk’s apparent suitability to the role it seems unlikely he would oust Henderson for a player so new to the dressing room. Fighting tooth and nail to join us in the past six months won’t have hurt his case however.

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

As recently as late November, I’d have thought myself insane for including Ox on this list. But then he turned it up a notch. Well let’s be fair – it was quite a few notches. He has shown a true elite mentality – this was a man who scored in a 5-0 mauling of Swansea on Boxing Day (those were the days, eh?) and in interviews after the match said he didn’t play well enough and wasn’t sure he deserved a goal. He also showed true leadership – we all know about THAT Coutinho interview. What is even more impressive is Ox’s attitude when Coutinho did eventually leave – he was entirely focused on the team and what they could bring, and how Coutinho’s departure was not the be all and end all of this Liverpool team. He is probably our best midfielder on his current form, is constantly improving and certainly deserves to be at the very least in the discussion when the question of the captaincy arises.

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Dejan Lovren

Yeah, I know. But he’s worn the armband, so let’s do this. Dejan Lovren has had a pretty torrid Liverpool career so far. However, these problems arose from a lack of defensive leadership, terrible cover from midfield and yes, poor form. Let us not forget that Lovren was one of the best CBs in the league when we signed him, and I believe he can find that form again alongside a more dominant partner like van Dijk. It is for this very reason though that he cannot be permanent captain – how can he lead the entire team when he isn’t even the leader of his own defence? That being said, his only outing with the armband was the City game and we know how well that turned out…

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Simon Mignolet

He’s on the list as a courtesy, alright? The man underperforms for six whole years and when he finally gets dropped for any significant length of time he immediately suggests a transfer? Not exactly the hallmark of a potential captain. See you later Simon.


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