A short while ago, the club announced the inevitable and Jordan Henderson was officially unveiled as Liverpool Football Club’s new captain.
It was hardly a closely kept secret, but it was certainly music to the ears of Liverpool fans around the world. The turnaround from the central midfielder – from a onetime makeweight in a failed deal for Clint Dempsey to the lynchpin of Brendan Rodgers’ side – is nothing short of remarkable.
With Henderson making the step up from vice-captain, it leaves a hole which is yet to be filled as the number 14’s right-hand man, so who are the contenders?
1) Lucas Leiva
The favourite of many to take over the mantle vacated by Hendo. Talk of the Brazilian midfielder leaving the club seems to have died down and as the club’s longest-serving player, there is plenty of sense in making the 28-year-old Henderson’s second in command. The South Americans love him and he’s likely to act as a father figure for Roberto Firmino, much like he did for Philipe Coutinho and Luis Suarez when they first arrived at Anfield.
He certainly brings a calming influence to the team when he is playing, but therein lies the problem. Lucas’ role in the current Liverpool setup is far from certain, especially with the arrival of James Milner and Emre Can’s expected shift into midfield. Lucas is a fine candidate no doubt, but question marks remain surrounding his ranking in the first-team squad.
2) James Milner
From the little we’ve seen of pre-season so far, one thing is for sure: Milner is undoubtedly one of the senior pros in the Liverpool squad. The way he has talked his teammates through the games in Thailand and Australia makes it seem as though he’s been at the club for an eternity. He’s also spoken at length to the press on the tour.
Unlike Lucas, his place in the starting XI is almost guaranteed. It’s the sole reason he joined from Man City. No matter that City offered him substantially more money in a last-ditch attempt to stay, Milner had his heart set on first-team football.
The only stumbling block is the fact that Milner only joined the club this summer. For all his experience, is his pedigree high enough among his teammates yet to warrant the vice captaincy?
3) Martin Skrtel
Skrtel has been at the club for seven-and-a-half years, just six months less than Lucas, and the Slovakian has now resolved a contract wrangle, tying himself to Liverpool for the next three years.
As the senior centre-back, his leadership qualities should be second nature. Moreover, he skippers Slovakia and at the age of 30 he should be a wise head that younger players look up to.
However, Skrtel has struggled with responsibility throughout his Liverpool career. Last season, Dejan Lovren was brought in to become the leader in the back four. While that evidently didn’t work as planned, Rodgers clearly has serious reservations about Skrtel’s ability to lead the defence, let alone take over the armband in Henderson’s absence.
4) Mamadou Sakho
The hulking defender became PSG’s youngest ever captain when he was handed the armband on his Ligue 1 debut aged just 17. No mean feat. He also wears the armband for France when Hugo Lloris is absent.
After a shaky start to his Anfield career, he has now become a crowd favourite and seemed to be the most vocal voice in the back line last season. His charity work also makes him an ideal role model.
Nonetheless, injury concerns and the looming presence of Lovren as competition mean that Sakho cannot be guaranteed a start for the Reds, which could ultimately rule him out of the running.
5) Adam Lallana
A slightly left-field choice perhaps, but Lallana was the captain of an impressive Southampton side before his £25m switch last summer. Injuries hampered his first season in a Red shirt, but his relentless pressing sets an impressive precedent for his teammates on the pitch.
Tellingly, Lallana has been a prominent figure in media briefings on Liverpool’s pre-season tour, along with Lucas and Milner, and the 27-year-old has spoken of becoming a “big character” within the squad this year following Steven Gerrard’s departure.
Much like Lucas though, his place in the starting XI is far from guaranteed. Firmino, Coutinho, Lazar Markovic, Jordon Ibe, Danny Ings and Divock Origi are all likely to be competing with Lallana for a starting berth come the first league match.
Of the above candidates, Lucas and Milner seem to be the most qualified to become Liverpool’s new vice-captain. Although Lucas is highly revered by everyone at the club, the vice-captain should be a first-team figure and Milner just shades this debate.
He’s already shifted a considerable weight onto his shoulders by taking on the famous number 7 shirt, but he could yet be given more responsibility by Rodgers.