So who got the better deal – Liverpool or Manchester United?
One is a tough-tackling, uncompromising monster of a defender in the Jamie Carragher mould; the other, an elegant playmaker that could, by some stretch of the imagination, be seen as the English Kaka.
Both players are well-built, at around 6 ft 2 in, contrary to the wrong info I had in my previous blogpost about Jones being 5 ft 11 in. He’s still a growing, boy I guess.
Henderson, 20, has played regularly for Sunderland in the Premier League for the past two seasons (38 appearances in 09/10 and 39 in 10/11), and has a bit of a reputation as a freestyler among the Sunderland academy lads.
He was used mainly as a right-sided midfielder when he first broke into the first team, but he eventually made the central midfield berth his own alongside another talented young Englishman at Sunderland, Lee Cattermole.
Jones, 19, has less Premier League experience, having just broken into the Blackburn Rovers first team last season, and even then his season was truncated by a three month injury lay-off.
He also started out being played out of his natural position. Predominantly a centre-back, Jones was also used in midfield and right-back last season.
United fans would be surprised to hear that his reported transfer fee of 16.5 million puts him in the top ten biggest transfers in United’s history. Inflation would have something to do with that, but nevertheless, it represents a bit of a financial gamble on Fergie’s end given Jones’ relative lack of experience.
My verdict (for what it’s worth)
The funny thing is both deals would have made more sense if they happened the other way round – if Liverpool bought Jones and United bought Henderson.
United obviously need a world-class midfielder. Henderson might not be one just yet, but he would be a step in the right direction.
Liverpool have a solid defense, but with Daniel Agger constantly injured and Sotirios Kyrgiakos still shakey, a talented young centreback to eventually replace Jamie Carragher would have made sense. Jones would have formed a strong partnership with Martin Skrtel or Martin Kelly for years to come.
On the other hand, Liverpool have plenty of options in central midfield – Steven Gerrard, Raul Mereiles, Lucas Leiva (superb for the whole of last season), Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey. They could even try giving Christian Poulsen a couple more games or recall the talented but unfortunate Alberto Aquilani.
United have a similar embarrassment of riches in central defense. They still have the rock solid partnership of Ferdinand and Vidic, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans as young successors, and the ever-reliable duo of John O’Shea and Wes Brown (though there is a good chance both will leave for Sunderland this summer).
And I do believe Ferdinand will be around playing at the highest level for at least another 2-3 years. His style of play has never had anything to do with speed or power, so even as his body ages, he’ll still be performing at the same level.
He’s all about his perfect timing, positioning and reading of the game. No need for heavy, last-ditch tackles – that’s why he hasn’t had a yellow card since 2009, and his first foul of the season was against West Brom in January – it was his first since April last year!
It could be because Rio hasn’t played that many games due to injuries, but still, those stats speak volumes about his attributes as a defender, and his style of play.
Once his body settles down over his last spate of injuries, which it did towards the end of the season, Ferdinand will be back to his imperious best.
Champions League final
In fact, during the Champions League final, Ferdinand held his own whenever he was one-on-one against Messi & Co. – the only problem was that the midfield ahead of him was getting torn to shreds!
It was Arsenal legend Martin Keown, if I remember correctly, who said ahead of the game that for United to stand a chance against Barcelona, Ferguson would have to give Ferdinand the freedom to track Messi into midfield.
That’s where Barca create their goals. They don’t play with a conventional forward – they tear you apart in midfield, over-run your fullbacks with their own fullbacks bombing forward, so by the time the play gets into the penalty area, your centrebacks can’t do nothing about it.
As it turned out, Keown was right – Ferdinand and Vidic were left with nobody to defend in the final as Messi and David Villa both dropped into midfield or moved to wide positions, creating havoc for Giggs and Carrick, Evra and Fabio; while Ferdinand and Vidic could only watch and make the occasional last-ditch tackle.
Think about it – where did Barcelona score their goals? 1) Pedro scored from the left side of the penalty area which Evra had deserted. 2) Messi scored from midfield after cutting in from the left. 3) Villa curled in the glorious third from outside the penalty area.