(Photo Credits: The Telegraph)
Jordan Henderson is not a world-class player and will probably never be. He does not appear to be bothered by that ever. However, Henderson is not given due credit as a vital cog in any of his teams either.
Now, that is bothersome.
The Liverpool captain is almost always written-off time and time again. Sometimes, it is new competition for his position. At other times, it is a new system where he does not fit or does not possess enough ability to play the role. This scenario never changed since he made a then big-money move to Anfield back in 2011.
Hailed as one of the young English midfield prospects around, a then 20-year old Henderson was a part of a major summer spending spree by Kenny Dalglish. Comparisons to club legend Steven Gerrard immediately ensued in some quarterd while many questioned his transfer fee of £16-20 million.
He made 40+ appearances in his debut season as Dalglish’s side picked up the League Cup and reached the FA Cup final. However, a disappointing league campaign ended in Dalglish vacating the hotseat. Henderson showed his quality in bits but he did not excite the Anfield faithful like Gerrard did so regularly.
The club’s view of him became evident when new manager Brendan Rodgers offered Henderson to Fulham in August 2012 to sign Clint Dempsey. However, he refused the move and decided to fight for his place at Anfield.
At that point in time, most fans were miffed on missing out a key summer signing and Henderson further earned their ire. He does not score goals or create enough, was the analysis. His versatility and industry are not enough to succeed at a top club, was the general conclusion.
After clawing his way back into the side, Henderson finally showed glimpses of his potential in the 2013/14 season. His energy, work-rate and dynamism helped cover for Gerrard’s aging legs and let the front three of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling run riot.
In fact, it was only when Liverpool bottled the title fight towards the end that Henderson’s absence was finally felt. He missed three out of Liverpool’s last four Premier League matches and the Reds dropped 5 points in those games, thereby, losing the title.
In the 2013/14 season, Henderson became a mainstay in the side and was tipped by many to succeed Gerrard as club captain. While he was praised for his team-first mentality and always giving his 100%, his official appointment on Gerrard’s departure in 2015 was not met with much fanfare.
Many saw Henderson as a part of Liverpool’s struggles and not a solution to it. The arrival of Jurgen Klopp in October 2015 threw a new question. The German brought in great hope with his record at Borussia Dortmund fresh in people’s minds.
His midfielders combined work-rate, technical and tactical ability to dominate games and Henderson is not the most gifted of players. He remained club captain but did not play much that season due to foot issues.
This brought the focus back to former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s statement in his autobiography. Ferguson wrote how Henderson’s gait was a potential chronic problem and how United decided against signing the player back when he was still at Sunderland.
Matters turned worse when Henderson himself admitted how his foot issue might not go away. In those two seasons, 2015/16 and 2016/17, he missed 47 games for the club.
Whispers strengthened how the Liverpool captain’s time was coming to an end at Anfield with the likes of James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum settling into the side while Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain arrived in the summer of 2017 as another option in midfield. The captain cannot be trusted with his fitness and his style does not fit with Klopp’s, was the consensus.
Meanwhile, Klopp expressed how the were working to convert Henderson from a box-to-box midfielder to a no.6 due to his tenacity and passing range. This move was met with skepticism as well with the club being urged to sign a player for that role instead.
As the season progressed however, Henderson not only proved his worth but also showed he can adapt and yet play at the highest level. He further cemented his spot with top-drawer performances in the UEFA Champions League knockouts as the Reds marched into the final.
Meanwhile, Klopp’s constant praise of the Englishman’s leadership qualities received a further boost with the way the latter handled and lent support to Sean Cox.
The fan was injured and hospitalised during the Champions League first leg tie against Roma. The Liverpool captain wrote a letter and helped raise a fund for his treatment, while showing support along with the rest of the team.
Fast-forward to this summer and two new midfielders in Naby Keita and Fabinho arrived. The whispers again began.
Henderson’s involvement in the World Cup led to Klopp managing his workload in the initial months. This led to speculation of the 28-year-old being on borrowed time.
However, the club renewed his contract and Klopp reiterated his captain’s quality and commitment. His fitness issues look to be behind him as well, having only missed 7 games in the past one-and-half seasons, and none due to foot-related injuries.
The story remains the same on the international stage. And his response is similar as well. Despite praising his leadership skills, England manager Gareth Southgate entrusted Harry Kane with the captain’s armband for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
At that point, Henderson was not nailed on to start for England and it was thought to have played a part in Southgate’s decision. However, he won the two-way battle with Eric Dier for the no.6 spot and put on excellent performances as the Three Lions reached the semi-finals of the tournament.
Thus, Jordan Henderson continues to be the Liverpool captain and one of England’s mainstays. However, he still continues to be written-off at every turn.
Currently, there is a huge clamour for Virgil van Dijk to be named as club captain. Fans want to see Wijnaldum or Fabinho ahead of Henderson in the no.6 role. This was the case when the team-sheet came out for the must-win tie against Napoli in the Champions League this week.
However, Henderson put on another top performance to lead his side into the knockouts, putting the debate on hold – at least for another week.
That is how he likes to operate. He will never be a headliner like Steven Gerrard ever was. However, in never giving up, always putting the team first, and finding a solution to every question posed to him, he epitomises everything about Liverpool Football Club better than most.
Maybe that is the reason why Klopp and Southgate want him in their teams. After all, the managers know their players better than most. While the univocal adulation continues to desert him, Henderson will continue to give his all for club and country without a fuss.
Gerrard built his career on producing moments of inspiration on the pitch. Henderson does it by proving people wrong week after week, year after year.
At the end of the day though, neither is more spectacular than the other.