“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
I’m sitting in the member’s library of the Museum of Literature Ireland as I write this. Take it easy with the eye-roll, reader, it’s not what you think. The membership was a thoughtful 50th birthday present from my son, Matthew. He knows his old man is obsessed with books, writing and writers and this place is particularly centred on James Joyce, my favourite author and a graduate of UCD, a college which was once based out of these stately buildings on Stephen’s Green. It was a lovely gift and offers me a fancy spot to do my scribbling.
Unlike my literary idol, I attended college at the other end of Grafton Street, in TCD (a far fancier spot I also write in, to be fair), and, when I wasn’t honing my apprentice Jim Morrison routine, I spent an inordinate amount of time reading in that august institute’s various libraries. A lot of time. Early to late, most days. After four wonderful years of hedonism and learning, my final grade was a respectable 2:1, rather than the “first” such bookishness might have suggested was inevitable.
Don’t get me wrong, I brought home the bacon, so to speak. It’s a good grade. My parents were delighted. I was the first in my family to graduate from university. All that good stuff. However, my pals, who used to routinely abuse me for bailing on impromptu parties to secrete myself in a reading room, wondered what I’d been up to. How could I have spent all those hours in libraries, missed so many gloriously debauched gatherings and still not secured the top grade? Wasn’t that what I’d wanted?
No, was the simple answer. The grade wasn’t my driving force at all. I hadn’t only been reading the syllabus material. Instead, surrounded by all the knowledge in the world, I read what I wanted to read. I let my curiosity guide me. Philosophy, psychology, history, Greek drama, sociology and, of course, a boatload of classic literature. I made a choice which was unique to me and not one my friends and family would have suspected.
“Where are you going with this oddly confessional and autobiographical intro, Trev?” I hear you ask. Well, I tell you all of that personal information merely by way of an attempt to explain how, quite often, what is expected is not what transpires. People surprise you and life can too. Things, as so many wise people have said, are often not what they seem.
I can’t remember a time in recent history when so much of what we might reasonably believe to be solid and immutable in the Liverpool Football Club universe is actually in complete flux. It feels like everything is changing and all outcomes are up for grabs.
The rogue element of Saudi Arabian lucre has entered our shared reality and, reader, its impact has been profound. Nothing turns heads, scrambles minds and compromises principles like money and these guys have such a deep well of it that they’ve decided to use it as a tool to rehabilitate their public image. There’s a name for this practice. You may have come across it. I couldn’t possibly state it here without consulting with the AI legal team.
The gravitational pull of this project has been particularly powerful in the Liverpool universe. Steven Gerrard and Robbie Fowler accepted managerial positions, Roberto Firmino bade his emotional farewell and also boarded the gravy train as did so many other high profile stars in the twilight years of their careers. Then things got weird.
A few weeks ago rumours started to surface that the club captain had agreed eye-watering terms with Al-Ettifaq. Further stories began to circulate about a £40 million offer from Al-Ittihad for Fabinho. Thiago was linked and then comparatively recent signing Luis Diaz started attracting an Eye of Sauron-like gaze from Al-Hilal as this newly burgeoning league seemed intent on populating its ranks with ex-Reds.
The fee Liverpool would reputedly receive for Fabinho makes his move a bit of a no-brainer for the club and his diminishing returns had already necessitated the recruitment of a new number 6 this summer. This is money the club could not have foreseen, an opportunity to recoup the amount spent on a genuinely transformative player after he has peaked, and such a windfall has likely caused the plans for a summer rebuild to expand on the fly.
Thiago is another it will be hard to resist a fee for, although it would be a real wrench for this scribbler to see such an artist leave and it might be nice to have at least one midfielder left who is over 25 as the season ahead plays out.
As for the Diaz rumours, I assume were the club to even answer the phone, the fee we’d ask would be hilariously huge and I doubt Klopp wants to lose a player he’s barely had a chance to work consistently with. Even if Liverpool were to receive a club record amount, it might be hard to replace what Diaz offers without paying out a similar amount. The football world is in flux and everything seems to be up for grabs, so, as Sam Jackson says in Jurassic Park, “hold on to your butts.”
This brings us to the club captain.
Regardless of your opinion of Jordan Henderson as a footballer, there can’t be too many of you reading this who would ever have conceived of a reality in which he would be angling for a lucrative move to Saudi Arabia with all the attendant moral issues that entails for so many people
It’s not so much that the captain was never going to leave Liverpool; it’s more the fact that the things most of us felt we knew about the Sunderland native were not in keeping with a mindset that might lead to a remuneration-driven move to a sub-standard league in a country famous for its vicious intolerance of the very same LGBTQ folk with which Henderson had so publicly aligned himself as an ally.
This odd reality is, nonetheless, what we are facing. It’s an unsettling state of affairs for all of us.
Today, we saw the vaguely comical footage of the Mackem training with his new teammates in Croatia. We also witnessed the very odd thing that was his farewell video. Privately shot and released on Henderson’s Instagram channel, the 3 minute film features a patently scripted and sometimes awkwardly read series of observations and reminiscences on his time at Anfield. At no point does it feel heartfelt to me, despite the evocative Kanye West tune All Of The Lights (Interlude) playing in the background and some incredible footage of the player’s remarkable career. He doesn’t really speak about his colleagues and Jürgen Klopp receives nary a mention. As I said, it’s just odd.
When you factor in that both of these things have come out today, on the back of all the previous information about contract details, the crowning glory of all the weirdness is that Liverpool Football Club have still made no official statement about their captain’s departure. With the Twitter avi festooned with the flag of the very LGBTQ folk who are so let down by Henderson’s decision, the stories featured on the feed are about the Anfield Road stand expansion, Milan Baros, Bob Paisley and pre-season friendlies. What is going on?
It’s important at this juncture that I am entirely honest with you, reader. In my opinion, Jordan Henderson has long-since ceased to be a valuable first-team regular. You may violently disagree. That’s your prerogative. Until recently, where we both likely aligned in our assessment of the man was in our combined certitude that he was ‘not the type’ of fellow to embrace the gold-leafed Saudi embrace. Shows what we know, eh?
As the rumours seemed to acquire some heft, I was, I openly admit, quite excited at the idea of offloading the old warrior and renewing our midfield with some more bright new talent. That excitement lasted only seconds as I realised that even were Henderson to perform the mental and moral gymnastics required to entertain or even desire such a move, the inevitable backlash would chasten him sufficiently and there’d be an end of it.
I kept waiting for the reality I expected. Any moment now, there’d be a statement affirming his commitment to the club, reiterating his support of those he’d been an outspoken ally of, and dismissing any interest in being part of the grand Saudi experiment. The admonishments came thick and fast. LGBTQ groups like Kop Outs and prominent journalists like Barney Ronay all expressing surprise and disappointment.
Surely, he would buckle?
Words of reassurance to the fans were imminent, weren’t they?
There was still time for an expression of regret, a mea culpa for having his head turned and a promise of renewed commitment to the cause. All would be forgiven. Well, it wouldn’t really; it’s 2023 and the world is powered by judgement and sanctimony, but most would simply move on.
Not a word.
The silence became oppressive and the mood hardened against Henderson in the absence of any words from him. I have seen many of his most ardent fans use words like greed and traitor in their brutal and hurt reappraisals of a man they once placed on a pedestal. Something still stranger had happened. I, a man who had grown almost desperate for the opportunity to take the player out of the selection eyeline of Klopp, found myself asking for a modicum of balance in the outrage but righteous indignation, it seemed, had taken precedence. It often does these days.
My simple point to the fulminating masses, as the father of a wonderful LGBTQ child, (the aforementioned thoughtful son), was ‘what have you done to help support people?’ Henderson, at least, had put himself forward in the past and aided inclusion with his words and deeds, when most in the macho world of football did nothing, nothing at all. Those words and deeds had impacted people in a real way. Now. of course, those people are now more than entitled to feel betrayal but all this howling from middle-aged straight blokes felt a tad performative to me.
Actions will always speak louder than words and while the ex-captain’s sentiments rang hollow in his odd little video and his actions in choosing the Saudi league have distressed many people who are abhorred by that country’s appalling human rights record, there was at least that meaningful period of support and advocacy. That was real and tangible. Henderson has, ultimately, proven to be the very definition of a flawed ally but perhaps his tale may yet have an unlikely redemption arc.
In the end, a captain that has lifted all the major trophies has left. The club will move on and so will he. For his efforts and his decency while representing Liverpool, this writer is grateful and appreciative. The nature of his departure has been unnecessarily ignominious and wildly unfortunate. His choice of destination has been utterly divisive. It was, however, time for him to go. It was, perhaps, past time. A new era beckons. I welcome it eagerly.