Henderson and Mata: A Peek at Liverpool's Future in the U-21 Finals

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Henderson and Mata: A Peek at Liverpool's Future in the U-21 Finals
Michael Steele/Getty Images

"Jordan Hender Who?" was the reaction of more than a few football fans upon learning that Jordan Henderson had just completed a 20 million pound transfer from Sunderland to Liverpool.

Yours truly was no exception.

Luckily, the U-21 Euros—which just kicked off this past weekend—gave me my first chance to run the rule over Liverpool's recent acquisition in the England vs Spain match. As a bonus, this also allowed me to see a player who has been heavily linked with a move to Liverpool, Juan Mata.

From what I gathered in the 90 minutes, I've reinforced my belief that Juan Mata is one of best players available in the transfer market.

As for Jordan Henderson, well, I'll try to think of something positive to say about him.

But first I want to talk about Juan Mata, how good he is and why Liverpool must do everything possible to sign him. Mata is usually labelled as a winger by the sports press, but this is a misleading description. In fact I don't think the old names for positions should be used about him at all.

Mata is part of a new breed of attacking players, such as Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller, who defy traditional roles. He's as much a winger as he is a central midfielder, and as much a central midfielder as he is a striker.

During a match, you will see Mata pop up all over the pitch. Against England, all of Spain's attacking moves started with Mata. At times he was carrying the ball up from the Spain back line, and other times he was at the very front of the attack initiating give-and-go's. He is like a mixture of Andrea Pirlo, Kaka and Del Piero.

He is the complete attacking player.

Journalists in both Spain and England have said that he is likely to start next season in a red jersey, and never before have I hoped so much that a transfer rumour turns out to be true.

Now, back to Jordan Henderson.

As I said, this was the first time I had a proper look at him. If it was possible to discern exactly how good or bad a player is just from one viewing, I would tell Kenny Dalglish to keep the receipt of his transfer sale. Of course, it is impossible to really judge a player from one performance, but my disappointed is justified.

First of all, an U-21 England Vs Spain match is probably one of the biggest games Jordan Henderson has ever played in, so I expected that he would bring his A game today. Instead, had I not seen the team sheet before kick-off I probably wouldn't have been aware he was playing- he was that anonymous.

The first contribution he made to the game was a foul on Juan Mata six minutes into the game. The next time I noticed him was in the 63rd minute when he made a run with the ball towards the Spain box, only to lose the ball in a subsequent give-and-go.

His was a truly, truly awful performance.

I know that inconsistency at his age is normal in otherwise good players. But Henderson is now one of the most expensive young players in England. With his huge transfer fee and high wages comes scrutiny. He will not be given the generosity and tolerance for youthful errors as his less high-profile colleagues. Fair or not, that's just a fact of the professional game.

For someone his age to flourish under such circumstances requires a special personality.

I'm sure he has the natural talent required to cut it at a top club or Liverpool would not have signed him. But no one can tell yet whether his mentality is strong enough to deal with the stress of being a Liverpool player.

Until about a week ago, Jordan Henderson was practically unknown outside of Sunderland circles. How he copes with his instant thrust to fame will be a critically important test of his character.

Liverpool have gambled a fortune that the youngster is up to this.

I said I would think of something nice to say about Jordan Henderson. He has a nice haircut.

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