Though he is Liverpool’s Captain Jordan Henderson still provides a divide in opinion between not just Liverpool fans, but football followers in general. Whereas some can appreciate his industrious nature, others tend to see him as an individual who has stolen a career as soon as they hear his name.
When Kenny Dalglish bought Henderson for an initial £16 million fee (that had the chance to rise to £20 million) from his hometown club Sunderland in the summer of 2011, not surprisingly, numerous eyebrows were raised. Henderson had come through the ranks as a central midfielder but his best performances had actually come when deputising out wide on the right hand side. Henderson’s star shone so bright he was handed his first England cap in a 2-1 Friendly defeat against France at Wembley.
An uneasy first season at Anfield saw many games pass Henderson by and this culminated in Liverpool trying to use him as a make way in a swap deal for Fulham’s Clint Dempsey in the summer of 2012 when Brendan Rodgers was now at the helm.
Henderson battled on and in the 13/14 season proved a crucial piece of Liverpool’s side who almost won the title. Henderson was sent off in Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Manchester City in an important late season game and ended up missing three of Liverpool’s four remaining matches. City went on to win the League and some fans were convinced that if Henderson had been present, Liverpool would have ended their famously long title drought.
Roll on the following season and legend Steven Gerrard announced he would be ending his Liverpool career. During the campaign Henderson had taken over Vice Captain duties as Daniel Agger had returned to Brondby, Henderson was the expected man to take the captaincy and this indeed came to fruition in the Summer of 2015.
Former Liverpool stalwart and now ESPN Analyst Steve Nicol, has always held a firm stance that Henderson should not be Liverpool’s captain, deeming him as ‘weak’ in February 2015 in games where Henderson had donned the armband when Gerrard did not start. Last season on ESPN’s Press Pass, Nicol abruptly stated that Henderson having the armband shows where Liverpool are currently as a club. Nicol also stated that he felt Emre Can should be the Reds’ leader as he had impressed him.
What plagued Henderson when he first got the captaincy was that it seemed he was trying to be his predecessor Gerrard. Henderson looked like a man who was forcing the issue, rather than trying to be himself, and this just added to the criticism of him. Maybe it’s the way Henderson runs, maybe it’s the fact that he is not blessed with a natural and graceful ability on the ball like say a Jack Wilshere, but Henderson proves to be a player that many find hard to love.
In his autobiography released in 2013 former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said, “We looked at Jordan Henderson a lot and Steve Bruce was unfailingly enthusiastic about him. Against that we noticed that Henderson runs from his knees, with a straight back, while the modern footballer runs from his hips. We thought his gait might cause him problems later in his career”, (Alex Ferguson – My Autobiography). This damning indictment caused more waves in the press than the announcement of Henderson’s original signing to Liverpool FC. It inferred that running was the attribute that spoke more volumes about the player than any other. This kind of comment has proved to be indelible when thinking of Henderson and has definitely contributed to the premeditated narrative about him as a player.
His improvement though should not be denied. Liverpool’s last two league fixtures can be looked at to see how important Henderson is. Henderson was withdrawn after a knock in the New Year’s Eve game at home to Manchester City. After he departed, Liverpool just about held out for a 1-0 victory. Their carelessness in possession was evident as City pinned them back in their own half, though they were unable to find the breakthrough. In the first Monday of 2017, they drew away to Sunderland whilst Henderson was out. Liverpool though having 70% possession overall, again were careless in crucial areas of the pitch. They could have nicked a win if they had been more efficient in dangerous areas.
Henderson leads the Premier League in completed passes with 1391 (Source: Squawka). Henderson’s overall 87% pass accuracy includes being in the top four players of passes completed in the final third, where the three players ahead of him all play further up the pitch, in Mesut Ozil, his teammate Philippe Coutinho and Eden Hazard.
Henderson has also completed the most long ball passes in the League, and he is second in tackles won behind local rival Everton’s Idrissa Gueye. Only a quarter of Henderson’s passes have been backwards, contrary to many who slaughter him for passing backwards too often. Meanwhile the likes of Michael Carrick are lauded for their recycling of possession. N’Golo Kante (now with Chelsea) was the driving force when Leicester won the League in his first Premier League season, last year. Kante was first in tackles and he also had the most interceptions and covered the most distance per game. Kante again leads in the yards covered per game category this term with Henderson a close second.
Like it or not, Henderson is also important to the England team and his maturity has never been more evident. Industry is pivotal in today’s football and when you consider England are not blessed in the centre back position, his work rate is imperative. His growth in his role was highlighted recently by Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher. After the win at Everton, Carragher pointed out that ‘He (Henderson) ensured his side retained their discipline in the first half when Everton tried to make it a fight and then went on to always pick the right pass when Liverpool started to play’, (Source: Daily Express). Understanding the team have to follow your lead is mandatory when being Captain and now Henderson has grown into himself and is feeling comfortable, his influence has shown. Carragher added ‘When he first became Liverpool Captain, things were not so easy and it is not wrong to say he struggled with initial scrutiny but everything about his performance at Goodison Park showed how much he has grown into the role.’
Not the prettiest on the eye, Henderson understands he must play to his strengths in order for his team to function and for the technicians in the Liverpool side to express themselves. With the way Jurgen Klopp has sold and loaned players since arriving on Merseyside, if he did not believe Henderson was up to being the Captain of Liverpool he would have definitely made a change.
He will never be another Gerrard or a Paul Scholes, but Henderson deserves now to be spoken of in a better light. He is blossoming acting as the anchor in Klopp’s pressing team and if Liverpool are to mount a serious title challenge, their captain will be an integral part to that. Jordan Brian Henderson is coming of age…can you comprehend?!…
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