Programme notesHenderson hails 'Liverpool icons' Firmino, Keita, Milner and Ox ahead of Anfield farewell
Jordan Henderson pays tribute to Roberto Firmino, Naby Keita, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in his final matchday programme notes of the season.
It was announced on Wednesday that the quartet will leave the club upon the expiry of their contracts this summer.
As such, today's Premier League meeting with Aston Villa is set to be their last game at Anfield as Reds players.
Read the captain's heartfelt words in full below.
"Of the many qualities Liverpool supporters possess, showing genuine love and appreciation to people who've contributed to this club is very much up there," writes Henderson.
"Last Monday at Leicester the serenading of Bobby Firmino from a packed away end was a moment I will never forget. I think you could tell from the players' reaction at full-time it touched us as a squad just as much as it did our Brazilian No.9 himself.
"Today is going to be special, sentimental and difficult because for four of our squad it will likely be their last-ever Anfield appearance in the Liverpool jersey, with the Liver bird on their chest.
"Let me be clear from the outset. All of us, including the four I'm about to mention, have our heads on the game today. We play arguably the form team of the second half of the season. What Aston Villa have achieved since the World Cup break is outstanding. All the credit in the world to Unai Emery and the players.
"This is as tough a match as you could imagine and we have prepared for it as such. When the game kicks off the only thought we will have is trying to win the contest. We think of nothing else.
"But given this is my final column of the season, I have to use these pages to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of players who will rightly be regarded as Liverpool icons for generations to come.
"Naby Keita is a cult figure with our fans and I can tell you the affection for him in the dressing room is just as big. His smile lights up the AXA Training Centre. As a person he is extremely humble and gentle. As a player he is one of the most technically gifted I have ever trained with. His quality is a joke.
"I'm sure there'll be some who look at his period here and be frustrated on his behalf that injuries denied him more minutes on the pitch than his talent deserved, but his contribution is there for all to see: big moments in big games.
"Seasons are decided in some of these moments and Naby can look back with great pride for his achievements here. We're going to miss him and I know he'll have a huge impact wherever he goes next.
"Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a person I've known for a very long time. We were together in the England camp on the day he signed for Liverpool and there is a photo from that evening where we have a big hug just after he's put pen to paper. I was so excited that we'd persuaded him to come and all these years later it's clear both sides made the right decision.
"I know the last couple of seasons will have been tough for Ox, in terms of not getting as many minutes as he will have wanted. Nothing can diminish the role he has played in this club's rise and resurgence, though.
"The 2017-18 season was the one where we all, collectively, found our belief.
"In my opinion that season was the springboard for the silverware that was to follow. For me, Ox was the best attacking midfielder in Europe going into the semi-finals of the Champions League that campaign. I don't want to dwell on the injury, but of course it was a setback which was cruel for him and the team. But make no mistake, Ox came back in unreal shape and had massive moments in the seasons we were at our best.
"I want to make this point because I think it is critical that people outside of our intimate work environment understand it: Ox is currently in the shape of his life and whoever gets him next has won the lottery. He's been fit and one of our standout players in training consistently for the past two seasons.
"Being honest, I'm buzzing for Ox but gutted he gets the chance to have a fresh start somewhere else. What I felt back on summer transfer deadline night in 2017 still applies now: the guy is dynamite. What a player.
"What can I say about Bobby Firmino that I haven't said before? I've done nothing but praise this guy since he first walked into Melwood back in 2015. It's so difficult to do justice in words.
"I think I can speak for all of the players when I say that to have had the opportunity to play alongside this guy has been a privilege. He's unique. There's no reference point when it comes to comparing Bobby. There's never been anyone quite like him and I doubt there ever will be again. To be that talented, have that much skill and then to work as hard and smart as he does, is remarkable.
"Humility in professional football is just as important as humility in life. The way Bobby plays, the selflessness of it, is what makes him so, so special.
"To have that much magic and ability and still sacrifice yourself for your team… honestly, for any young player wanting to be a forward, he is the benchmark. He's not afraid to express himself and do all the tricks but at the same time makes sure he earns that right by doing the non-spectacular things also. His status as an all-time Liverpool great is secured.
"His name will be sung at Anfield for decades, I'm sure, in the same way fans still celebrate players like Sir Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush. It's going to be so strange coming into work next season and him not being here.
"Probably the biggest compliment I can pay Bobby is that he is an even better person than he is a football player. The man is full of love and joy. Whenever I hear his name I will always smile. That's the impact he's had on all of us lucky enough to know him and be able to call him a friend.
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"And so to James Milner. I write this knowing that giving Millie praise is one of the most difficult things imaginable. Why? Because he hates it. He hates being the focus.
"It's a well-told story now but the night we became European champions in Madrid in 2019 I did try to persuade him to join me in lifting the trophy. The reply was two words, the second one being 'off!'
"The reason I wanted to share that moment with him still stands to this day. Trying to get him to do it with me was a fool's errand, but the guy has been – and still is – the beating heart of our team. All the things I'm going to say now I have said before, but they are important to repeat.
"He sets the standards. He's relentless. He makes everything about the collective ahead of the individual. He is the embodiment of the values a successful team needs to have. He's all of this and more because he's also an exceptionally gifted footballer.
"Maybe I've just been guilty of it in the sentences above, but often the focus on his professionalism means there is a lack of appreciation of his quality. His attitude is elite, but so is his skill level. When you train with him every day you realise his technical ability is close to perfect.
"I mentioned right at the beginning that LFC supporters have the knowledge and football intelligence to show gratitude to people who deserve it. I know that's the case with James Milner. The appreciation of what he's done for this club will stand the test of time. It certainly will with those of us who've fought alongside him.
"One final point on Millie: the manager was keen for him to stay and that tells you everything you need to know. With him, age is just a number. His physical condition is outrageous. I don't know where he goes next, but he still belongs at the highest level. His remarkable story still has a few more chapters to be written. It'll be strange for us to see them penned elsewhere.
"Last but not least, on behalf of all of the players I would like to wish Arthur Melo the best of luck for whatever comes next in his career. I mention luck because it's the one thing he needs.
"Arthur is an outstanding footballer and that has been very clear in the short time he's been with us. Hopefully the platform he has given himself since coming back from injury will serve him well in the years to come.
"Again, all of the farewells are on hold until the game is concluded. All of the players above will want nothing else but the focus today to be on winning. It's in their DNA. But when the full-time whistle goes it will be about celebrating these four extraordinary players. They came, they contributed, they won over your hearts and then they won the lot.
"They leave with our love and our thanks as a squad of players. Teammates, yes, but friends for life. We wish them well for their futures."