It is little wonder England’s Football Association considered Brendan Rodgers could be the manager to bring the best out of their talented, but under-performing, national squad ahead of the Irishman plumping for Celtic in the summer. When it comes to a raft of the players that Gareth Southgate will call upon for Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Scotland, Rodgers has already ratcheted up their levels.
Chief among these is Jordan Henderson, expected to captain his country at Wembley. Signed from Sunderland for £20m the year before Rodgers pitched up at Anfield in the summer of 2012, he rates Henderson’s contribution so highly he is willing to consider the worth of the man he made Liverpool captain as possibly life-changing for his coaching career.
“The biggest compliment I can give Jordan is that we would probably have won the league [2012-13] if he hadn’t been suspended. With five games to go when we beat Man City, right at the very, very end of that game that we won 3-2 he got sent off. Virtually at the last whistle. We looked at lots of different things for us not winning the title and that was a key moment for us. We lost the guy who could really press the game. It was all about intensity and pressure in those few seasons I was there and we lost that from him. That’s how important he was to that team at that time.
“Now he’s got great maturity. He’s very much a team player, a great footballer and someone who is learning the game tactically all the time. He’s a fantastic boy, very conscientious. I made him assistant captain in Steven Gerrard’s final year with a view to him learning more from Steven so that when Steven finally left Jordan could become the captain of the team. It was really unfortunate he was injured last year. He had had the issue with his heel in the final season I was there. But now he’s back up to speed again.”
So much so that Henderson’s nation has recognised the leadership qualities that led to Rodgers handing him the armband at Anfield in 2015.
“I think if you can captain Liverpool then you can certainly captain England. It’s a huge responsibility. When you’re at a massive club being the captain is a job in itself. For some players that can overwhelm them. Being the captain of the huge institutions, it’s not just about on-field. There’s a huge responsibility off the field as well.
“He was adapting to that in his first season and then he’s really grown into it. I’ve had many conversations with him on the training ground and at my house about the role. I took him to my house and told him he would be captain of Liverpool and I think it was a real proud moment for him. He’s never ever forgotten that.
“He’s a wonderful ambassador and role model, someone who has come through the academy system, got the big-money move as a young player, took a bit of time to settle in his first year, was brilliant for me in that midfield for a couple of seasons, the driving force in the team. He’s gradually just got better and better. We’re still in contact.”
Rodgers’ status as a manager plying his trade north of the Border won’t make that contact a little frosty this week. He has also worked with Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand, and isn’t taking to sides over a game he will travel to Wembley for.
“I’ll wish all my players involved good luck. I don’t particularly want England or Scotland to win. I’ll go to the game and see all the players I’ve worked with – and still work with – do well. Hopefully I’ll have a few players on the field that I’ve worked with. I’m from Northern Ireland. I don’t want to offend any nation.”