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Jose Enrique identifies three areas Liverpool can strengthen, tips Rodgers for top Prem job & talks Gerrard slip dressing room aftermath

| 19.05.2021

Liverpool face a huge game this weekend, with Champions League qualification at stake when they host Crystal Palace.

Before Sunday’s Premier League finale, we caught up with former Liverpool defender Jose Enrique to discuss the club’s season, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s improved form, how much Jordan Henderson has been missed and much more…

Top four finish would complete a ‘miracle’ season for Liverpool

If Liverpool finish in the top four, given everything that’s happened this season, I believe it’s nothing short of a miracle. Given how bad the team have performed at times, for whatever reason that may be, I’m telling you it will go down as a miracle. It’s so big for the future of the club because the club needs Champions League football in order to attract top players.

The team started really well in comparison to the poor starts Man United and Man City had. You can’t make excuses but I do believe that pretty much everything that could go against Liverpool has gone against them. Virgil van Dijk’s absence was huge, but we’ve also seen injuries to Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, Jordan Henderson, Diogo Jota, and on top of that Jurgen Klopp and Alisson have both had to deal with personal issues off the pitch.

There was just so much inconsistency earlier on in the season and for whatever reason you could see the morale of the whole squad looked low. I don’t want to call out players but Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane haven’t had the best of years – you could even put Thiago Alacantara in the same boat; OK he’s had a great few games of late but problems in defence have also affected his performances at times.

So many players have stepped up and filled in for Van Dijk this season. Fabinho has done a job, but the team misses him in midfield when he drops into defence. If I had to pick out one player who has stood out for me this season in Van Dijk’s absence, it would be Nat Phillips. His emergence this season has meant Liverpool don’t need to go and sign a centre-half this summer. With Van Dijk and Gomez coming back, Phillips – for me – has done more than enough to justify being a Liverpool player next season. He’s been incredible. He’s the type I player that I love. He doesn’t have the qualities of Van Dijk and Gomez, but he gives his all, he’s very strong, he fights for the team. You know he’ll perform for you because he always gives his best. He’s surprised me a lot.

Three key areas Liverpool need to strengthen in the summer

For me there are three positions Liverpool need to improve when the transfer window opens. First of all, they definitely need a number nine, a proper striker. If you want to push me for a name, I’d obviously go with Erling Haaland. I love Haaland. I believe his style of play makes him the perfect striker for Liverpool.

Then you’ve got to look at replacing Gini Wijnaldum, because obviously he’s going to be leaving in the summer, so I’d definitely say they need to bring in another number eight.

And then I’d look at bringing in another right-back to provide more competition for Trent Alexander-Arnold. I just think Trent needs pushing that little bit more, and if he ended up picking up an injury which puts him out for a couple of months, I’m not sure you can replace him with Nico Williams, in my opinion. He’s a good player but he’s a long way from being Liverpool’s second-choice right-back.

Bring in players in those three positions, and Liverpool can challenge for every trophy next season.

There’s no one else in the Premier League like Jordan Henderson

Jordan Henderson is a very good friend of mine, and in fact the night Liverpool won the Champions League in Madrid I spent a lot of time talking with him at the after party.

First and foremost I must say obviously I was happy for Liverpool Football Club that they won the Premier League last season, but I was especially happy for Hendo because when he arrived at the club, a lot of expectation was on his shoulders because we’d just paid £20m for a Sunderland player. I believe he wasn’t prepared when he first joined the club – but that’s understandable; he was young. I probably wasn’t completely prepared to sign for a club as big as Newcastle when I was so young. It takes a while to reach a certain level and that was the same for Hendo.

But Hendo would always stay late at training, he was always working hard, and I believe Steven Gerrard was the first one to believe in him and say ‘this guy will be the future captain of Liverpool.’

You could see the two of them were very close. You have to remember there’s a big age gap so they were obviously at different stages in their career; Stevie was more in family mode while Jordan was a lot younger. But on the field you could see Stevie saw something in him. We all started to see it afterwards on the pitch.

I have all the respect in the world for Stevie, but Henderson is right up there for me in the Liverpool Hall of Fame. Hendo is a player I believe will always be remembered by Liverpool fans. Purely for his consistency – he always does his best and when he doesn’t play, you notice the difference.

He doesn’t give you what Stevie gives you in terms of certain qualities, but what he brings to the team is incredible. You can really feel his presence. When he’s not on the pitch, you’re not getting the best out of the strikers, the wingers, the midfield and the defenders. He really is that important. He’s talking to his players all the time. He plays his game, but he plays everyone else’s game as well. He makes everyone else reach their potential. I believe he is the only player in the Liverpool team who does that; dictating the game and influencing his teammates so much.

No other top team in the league has a player like Henderson. Man United don’t, Chelsea don’t – even Man City don’t. They have Kevin De Bruyne who is an exceptional player, but I don’t see anyone else in the league who has the leadership qualities Henderson possesses. There’s no one else quite like him.

Southgate shouldn’t have publicly called out Trent

For me, I think Trent [Alexander-Arnold] had a real wake-up call when he was dropped from the England squad, and I believe he probably needed it. I don’t agree with the way Gareth Southgate did it, though. He shouldn’t have publicly mentioned that Trent was out of form; that should be a private conversation between the player and the manager. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Southgate but I don’t believe he should have made that public. Everyone knew Trent was struggling to find form, so I don’t know why Southgate needed to come out and say the same thing to the press.

But if you look at the kid – and let’s remember he’s just a kid – and how he has responded since that call, he’s been absolutely brilliant. He could’ve beaten himself up about it but he’s gone the opposite way. He’s shown Southgate what he’s missing, and since that international break, he’s been flying. You saw the way he celebrated an assist after he’d been dropped from the England squad and that was so great to see. At such a young age, it’s very difficult to lift yourself up when you’ve been so exposed. For the last few years he’s been the best right-back in the world in my opinion. He’s gone from all of that to being dropped from the England squad, suffering a dip in form and has seen his club struggle in the league. To come back the way he has – at such a young age – his reaction and his performances since have been great. He has to be in England’s squad for the Euros. It will be a big miss for them if he isn’t.

A lot of Liverpool’s play comes solely from Trent. Not just goals and assists, but his work-rate, his passing, his build-up play.

Harry Kane

Who wouldn’t want to sign Harry Kane? He’d improve any team in the world. It’s going to be difficult for a club to sort out a deal for him, even though he wants to leave, because we know Tottenham Hotspur make it very hard for clubs to sign their players – especially when it comes to Premier League rivals.

But you have to understand what Harry Kane has done for Spurs and the loyalty he has shown the club when others have come and gone. There’s a chance they might not even make the Europa League next season – but even if they do qualify for that competition, are you really going to stop him from joining a bigger club when he’s turned down opportunities for so many years? Do Tottenham really want to do that? He signed a new long-term contract a few years ago because he believed in the project, but that project is yet to return trophies, which is ultimately what Kane wants.

I completely understand Tottenham wanting to get as much money as they can for him, but setting such a big price tag means only a couple of clubs can realistically sign him.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see him at Liverpool, but if I’m honest with you, I don’t believe they’re going to spend the kind of money Tottenham will want.

Even though they won the league last season, you have to understand Liverpool cannot compete with the likes of Man City and Chelsea when it comes to transfer fees. These type of clubs sign big players all the time. Liverpool is not this kind of club. Diogo Jota came from Wolves last season and he’s very good; I believe he’ll be great for Liverpool next season now that he’s had a year at the club. But Man City, Chelsea and Man United go for the best players in the world all the time. They’re always the three clubs that are linked with Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and now Harry Kane.

It’s easy to see why; look at their benches. Look at the centre-backs Man City started last week against Newcastle. Eric Garcia and Nathan Ake started that game, both are top, top defenders. And on the bench City had John Stones, Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias. You cannot compete with that; when a top player at Liverpool like Virgil van Dijk gets injured, you have to look to someone like Joel Matip or Nat Phillips to step up. When something like this happens at Man City, you hardly even notice because they have three or four world-class players in pretty much every position.

Four teams have a genuine chance of winning the title next season

Man City have dominated the Premier League this season, but I think it will be a lot closer next year. I still expect them to be favourites to win the title, but Chelsea have improved under Thomas Tuchel and we know they’ll spend big again in the summer. Man United can be up there too if they sign the right players in the transfer window, and Liverpool will hopefully be back challenging for top spot again.

I don’t see Arsenal or Tottenham close at all, so it will be between the four teams mentioned above. If I had to pick one team, I’d have to say Manchester City. Liverpool can absolutely challenge, but it’s Man City’s title next season if Liverpool don’t spend big.

Brendan Rodgers

I actually sent Brendan Rodgers a message last weekend after he won the FA Cup. I told him I hoped he could make the top four alongside Liverpool. We actually talk quite a bit and he was really happy I messaged him after the final. He’s a great guy; a great man. He would improve any top team in the world. I know this because of the years I spent working for him at Liverpool. What people have to realise is that he obviously nearly won the title with us in 2013-14, but that was seven years ago. He’s not the same manager now that he was back then; he’s even better. It’s actually quite frightening. He came into a Liverpool team with a lot of big players having just managed Swansea, so at the time he didn’t really have that much experience in and around such huge names. But he’s got that now, so he’s got the respect of every player who works under him.

For me, Brendan Rodgers is a manager who could go and do a job successfully at Chelsea or Man United. I believe he is a manager who should be trusted with a big budget at a big club and I have no doubt he would be a success. I’m very happy for him and it’s amazing to see what he’s doing at Leicester, but I believe when a club like Chelsea or United are looking at their next manager, he should be the first name they turn to.

When Rodgers came to Liverpool, obviously we had respect for him. I’d be lying if I said I had the same feeling seeing Brendan for the first time as I did seeing Jurgen Klopp for the first time. But then Brendan won us all over, almost immediately, with his work ethic on the training ground and his tactical knowledge. He made us believe in him.

In terms of training and knowledge, Brendan Rodgers is the best manager I have ever played under. He knows so much tactically, and you’ve got to remember I’m talking about a man coming into a team nine years ago. So his knowledge and experience has only improved in that time. I can’t even begin to imagine how much he knows about the game now. If you ask any Liverpool player at that time, they’ll tell you how surprised and impressed they were with Brendan Rodgers.

The 2013-14 season was – prior to winning the title last year – probably as close as Liverpool had ever come to winning the Premier League. I picked up my knee injury early on in the campaign but I was always around the squad and was very much a part of things.

Brendan Rodgers was always really good to me during that time. I believe I’m still in touch with him for a reason. He’s such a nice guy and someone I have a lot of time and respect for. Before the global pandemic I actually visited him and went for dinner with him and Kolo Toure in Leicester.

Brendan really trusted me when he arrived at the club. I remember I stopped playing in the November of that season because my injury had worsened, but I had actually been carrying the problem with me for two months prior to that, but Brendan believed in me and kept me in the side. Even when I was only training once a week, he would still play me at the weekend.

The following season he told me he was looking at selling me. He wanted the best for the club and for himself, and he told me I wasn’t giving him what he needed because of my injury. He was honest and open with me, and it’s easy for me to talk about now, but at the time it was difficult for me to accept it. As a player, you believe you are always right and you know best. I couldn’t accept it, but in reality Brendan was telling me the truth. I have nothing against him; I am only grateful to him for the faith he put in me and that’s why we still have a strong relationship to this day.

Infamous Gerrard slip & the aftermath being a Liverpool player

I’m going to say something I don’t think I’ve ever said before, but I believe we approached that Chelsea game badly. Maybe it was down to Brendan Rodgers’ inexperience at the time; it’s something a few of the players spoke about afterwards.

Obviously Steven Gerrard had a very unlucky day with everything that happened to him, but we got our tactics wrong. We attacked Chelsea when we knew that Jose Mourinho was going to come to park the bus behind a bus, behind two thousand buses. We’d have been fine with a draw, and the title would’ve still been ours to lose. But instead of playing for a draw on that day, we actually tried to beat Chelsea, and Mourinho was more than happy with that.

I believe we approached the game badly. What happened with Stevie was unfortunate, and it’s hard because I know the person behind Stevie; he’s probably the one name I respect more than any other in the world of football. He’s an unbelievable guy, so we naturally felt really sad for him. We knew after that result that Man City weren’t going to drop any points in their run-in.

But it wasn’t just that Chelsea game that ruined our season; we dropped points we shouldn’t have dropped throughout the season, but the Chelsea game was a key one for us and I believe we approached it badly. Knowing how Mourinho is, it ended up being a very ugly game. We should’ve played for the point. I believe it was a massive mistake from us.

There wasn’t one player in particular who rallied the troops after that game, because we didn’t completely lose the faith, but it’s true that is was obviously a big hit for us. We tried not to show it, certainly not to the media, but deep down we felt it. Stevie himself was the one in the dressing room after that game trying to cheer everyone up. Jordan Henderson was doing the same.

But you could see psychologically it affected the team, because we just knew deep down City weren’t going to drop points.

Klopp gave me the captain’s armband in my last game as a sign of respect

There was a quick turnaround between Brendan Rodgers leaving the club and Jurgen Klopp coming in. When we first walked into the room and saw him it was a real wow moment.

As soon as he arrived, he made all of the backroom staff stand in front of us players and had us all applaud them, reminding us that they were just as important as us. He changed the whole mentality of the club.

People think Liverpool were lucky to be able to go and spend so much money on Alisson and Virgil van Dijk – but that money came from the sale of Philippe Coutinho; it’s not like he was just gifted over £100m to spend on these players – he lost a big player in Coutinho but reinvested that money of strengthening our defence. He changed the club. He’s surrounded by so many world-class people, but he is by far the most important person at the club.

As far as my own experiences with Klopp go, he came to the club at a time where I wasn’t being honest with myself. I just wanted to be playing football but my knee injury was stopping me. He was always honest with me, though. I had a few meetings with him during our time together. He had spoken to a lot of people behind the scenes and knew all about me. He told me I could not give him the intensity that he demanded from his players. And it was true. He would often congratulate me in training for a good session and I’d get this feeling that he’d be playing me at the weekend, but the day after, my knee would swell. It was a constant cycle and it was impossible for him to play me.

Klopp gave me the captain’s armband as a sign of respect for my final game at Liverpool. He told me he knew how much I’d done for the club, and he acknowledged how much I’d suffered over the final few years, and how much I wanted to get back to my best. He wanted to give me the armband to make me feel good.

That moment came in the FA Cup replay against Exeter, but I was supposed to be captain in the first match. Jurgen came to me and said he wanted me to be captain in the first game, but he also saw an opportunity to give Christian Benteke a confidence boost. Christian wasn’t going through a great period as a striker so the boss felt that if he gave him the armband it might help to bring out the best in him. Me and Benteke are really, really close. I love him; he’s an amazing guy and we actually meet up quite a lot. The boss let me make the decision, and I thought it was best to give the armband to Benteke. I didn’t mind. It would have been nice in that first game to have worn the armband for such a great club, but it was the right thing to do for the side at the time because we felt it would give Benteke the boost he needed. I wasn’t thinking about what would be good for me; I was thinking about what would be better for the team, and giving Christian the armband would have given him the confidence, which is what the whole team needed at the time.

We drew the first game 2-2 so when the replay came around he came over to me and handed me the armband. I was like ‘OK, I’m going to be captain of this great football club for one game’.

And I knew, to be honest, it was probably going to be my last game for Liverpool. I could tell by the way he was talking with me. He told me to enjoy the day.

I only have good words for Jurgen Klopp. I was having treatment in Paris one time when Liverpool were playing against PSG and he invited me to the hotel – he spoke to me for a while and treated me so well.

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