Update (7:00am 06.10.11): Should have done this yesterday night. Henderson deal's completed for a rumored £16m, probably with a few million in add-on incentives as well. Ngog has permission to speak with Sunderland, but the fee on his potential deal remains undisclosed. Depending on the sum agreed, the overall outlay on Henderson could be cheaper than initially expected.
Who knew the Internet would be so polarized because Liverpool's actually able to spend money? Oh, right, it's the Internet.
The discord seems to be because the Henderson deal aligns with the post-Carroll 'Liverpool are spending like a drunken xenophobic sailor' narrative. Which is as unfair to Henderson as it was to Carroll. Both are fantastic prospects, already excellent players with their entire careers ahead of them, who fans should be thrilled to have in red. A year ago, Liverpool were checking under couch cushions for the privilege of spending £8m in transfer fees on Joe Cole, Paul Konchesky, and Christian Poulsen.
Obviously, everyone would be happier if Henderson were cheaper, but it's not as egregious as many are making out. The rumored inclusion of Ngog – somewhat sad but smart business – lessens the blow, but a £20m valuation on a 20-year-old midfielder with two seasons under his belt is slightly staggering on first glance. However, recent regulations – the Premier League's homegrown law and UEFA's financial fair play rules – make the player both more valuable and costlier. There's the ubiquitous, constantly increasing British premium, the fact he'd be on comparatively low wages, and that his nationality and age will keep his resale value high unless he flops harder than Yokozuna off the high dive. If it's the biggest business or, God forbid, only business Liverpool does, we have a problem. But I highly doubt that'll be the case.
Liverpool evidently want the best and brightest of England's next generation. Whether or not it's a smart policy is debatable. But, unlike last summer, it's not dross for the sake of passport numbers, but two or possibly more of the most sought-after talents on these shores. Not players in their prime or past it, but clay that Dalglish gets to mold in whatever manner he sees fit.
I didn't catch a ton of Sunderland last season, but Henderson's crosses were his most memorable attribute – the video Liverpool Offside posted yesterday features a fair few sparking examples. Goes without saying that Liverpool needs more of that.
Just as important is Henderson's versatility. He's played both centrally and on the right for Sunderland. He's a flexible, pass-and-move player able to cover a couple different positions. Which seems to be Dalglish's modus operandi. At the same time, that adaptability gives us few clues as to Liverpool's future formation.
In theory, Henderson seems best suited for 4-2-2-2 or 4-3-3: on the right a la Meireles in the former, as the right-sided central midfielder in the latter. But that's with no guarantees he'll go straight into the first team or that Liverpool's summer business is anywhere near finished. I've also never seen him play in the attacking line of a 4-2-3-1 because Sunderland never plays that formation, so that's not entirely out of the question either. He's 20. I doubt he knows his best position. Liverpool are building a squad, not for a certain formation. We saw 4-2-2-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-3-3, and 3-4-2-1 during Dalglish's five months.
At the same time, Henderson, Meireles, and Shelvey (and Aquilani, but don't expect to see him back) have more than few similar qualities. Yes, all three have different strengths – Meireles is a better scorer and, more obviously, in the prime of his career; Shelvey has a better range of passing; Henderson is quicker, taller, stronger, and seemingly has the highest ceiling – but all three are "box-to-box" midfielders: neither strictly defensive nor especially attacking. All three played both central and right midfield for their respective clubs last season. I'm incredibly interested to see how they all fit into next year's team, especially if (as rumored) Liverpool are still in pursuit of Charlie Adam. That deal makes even less sense following this one, but Dalglish and Comolli must have a master plan.
Liverpool were also rumored to be in the market for a defensive midfielder: a replacement for Poulsen, competition for Lucas. Blaise Matuidi, at Comolli's old club, has been most frequently mooted. My initial thought was this might mean Spearing is seen as Lucas' back-up. Or, God forbid, Poulsen might actually get a second chance. This summer has many more twists and turns left in it.
As for the departing young Frenchman, it's supposedly a £5.5m gain on a player who perpetually divided fans. He was one of the few positives under Hodgson, but clearly regressed under the new manager. Ngog only started two games after Dalglish took the reins: both legs against Sparta Prague. He played just 146 minutes in eight appearances over the last 18 league matches. Seemingly without a future at Anfield, including Ngog in the deal is good business for both the player and the club.
Welcome, Jordan. Good luck, David. Be excited, Liverpool fans.