Jordan Henderson's £100,000-a-week deal begins Rodgers' rebuilding plan
Published 21/04/2015 | 02:30
Liverpool have taken a major step in their post-Steven Gerrard reconstruction by agreeing a £100,000-a-week deal with Jordan Henderson that will keep the England midfielder at the club for the peak years of his career.
The 24-year-old is expected to sign terms by the end of this week, tying him to Anfield until 2020. It will end months of negotiations and lift some of the gloom around the club following their FA Cup disappointment.
Talks were concluded before the semi-final defeat against Aston Villa on Sunday, although it was hoped the vice-captain would be signing the contract in better circumstances.
Henderson will be hoping to be confirmed as club captain when Gerrard leaves for LA Galaxy at the end of the campaign, though Brendan Rodgers is yet to confirm that. The manager will be seeking to add experience to his squad before next season and has kept his options open on the captaincy.
The immediate focus for the Merseyside club is to win their remaining Premier League games as there is still hope that they could steal a Champions League place, though that would require Manchester City or Manchester United to slip up in their remaining fixtures.
Should Liverpool miss out on the top four, the annual post-season review by the club's owners, Fenway Sports Group, will focus on the squad imbalance that ensured Liverpool played virtually eight months without a recognised, top-class striker.
There is an acknowledgement at the top of the club that the business conducted in last summer's transfer window has not had the desired impact, and recognition that the manager has had to deal with too many setbacks to succeed, particularly the sale of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge's prolonged absence. Between them the two strikers scored 55 goals last season.
There is certainly no appetite to make Rodgers a scapegoat for campaign that looks like it will end up as a disappointing one, with none of the key targets met. The club's long-term plan will not be ripped up.
Rodgers has faced a constant struggle to find the best team shape for a squad lacking experience and proven quality. Losing his strikeforce made the side unrecognisable from the one that competed for the title a year ago.
Sturridge has become as much of an enigma as the ineffective Mario Balotelli, with the former so frequently unavailable for significant games that he can no longer be relied upon to be Liverpool's first-choice striker.
With Balotelli certain to be sold should a reasonable offer be made for him, Rodgers' first priority in the summer is a new centre-forward. He will have to work on the assumption that Sturridge will miss as many key games next season as he has this year.
There are key decisions to be taken on every other position, too. With the exception of Emre Can, the promising Germany Under-21 international, none of last summer's signings have produced consistently.
Adam Lallana, who has had injury problems, Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic will be under severe pressure if they do not radically improve when they return to Anfield in pre-season. Decisions will be taken on each of them as to whether they will be much better in 12 months.
Liverpool are still confident of recruiting Danny Ings from Burnley this summer, and they hope James Milner will opt to move to Anfield on a free transfer from Manchester City, though missing out on Champions League football could complicate that deal.
There is also interest in PSV Eindhoven's Memphis Depay, although Manchester United are also believed to be tracking the winger.
Liverpool would face a familiar problem if they are not part of the European elite, as they will be trying to sign players on the radar of the Premier League's top four and will face a much tougher transfer window. Rodgers will be asking himself how he can move the team forward, and which members of his squad have too often let him down.
The most alarming aspect of the performance against Aston Villa was that Tim Sherwood's side showed more hunger, winning the physical battle as much as outplaying Rodgers' side.
A year ago, Rodgers said that he felt Liverpool needed to add two or three top-class players who could slot immediately into his line-up. He will consider that requirement to be even more important to stand any chance of competing next season.
He wants players of greater maturity and pedigree to complement the younger elements of his side, who are inevitably prone to inconsistency.
Not only will Gerrard be leaving, but Glen Johnson and Kolo Toure are out of contract and Lucas Leiva - who nearly left in January - is expected to end his Anfield career (© Daily Telegraph, London)