Jordan Henderson: The Man Who Proved The Doubters Wrong

A quick search of Twitter in the wake of Jordan Henderson’s penalty miss for England last week would have shown that there are still plenty of people that don’t rate the former Sunderland player. Thankfully, for the most part, few of them would be Liverpool supporters. It hasn’t always been this way, however. For long periods of time during Hendo’s Anfield spell, there have been many Reds who didn’t understand what he offered. When Virgil van Dijk signed, there were countless tweets suggesting that the Dutchman should be made captain at the Mackem’s expense. In a strange way, many only came to appreciate quite what Henderson offered as a captain when the football stopped. During the lockdown that accompanied the global pandemic, Henderson stood up to be counted. It emerged that he is seen as something of a ‘captain’s captain’ by the other Premier League club’s figureheads and created a WhatsApp group to ask what everyone thought footballers could do to help the National Health Service.

Those that don’t rate the midfielder now look like flat earthers – people who deny facts even whilst they’re staring them in the face. Henderson isn’t the best footballer that has ever taken to the football pitch, although he is must better than some give him credit for. What he is, though, is a player that helps his teammates as much as possible, constantly talking and working hard to cover as much space as he can. Too many Reds had their opinion of Henderson coloured by his rumoured price tag and his first season or two at the club. Kenny Dalglish often played him out on the wing, which was not a position that was ever going to get the most out of him. When the big matches came around, though, The King wanted him on the pitch because of everything that he offered. His move to the middle of the park allowed him to perform to the best of his ability and, from a crowd-pleasing point of view, 2013-2014 was perhaps his best. He’s not about pleasing the crowd, however, and nor should he be. That’s not his job.

The Player’s Player

Ask anyone in the sport that has worked with Jordan Henderson and you’ll get virtually the same response from all of them: they love him to bits. He doesn’t score as many goals as supporters like, nor does he crunch into tackles all over the pitch in the manner that some England supporters like to see from players such as Mark Noble. Instead, he shuts down space, covers his teammates and keeps the ball ticking over. He’s picked whenever he’s fit by Jürgen Klopp, just as he was by Brendan Rodgers and Kenny Dalglish before him. If a manager is able to put him in the team then they will because he does exactly what they want him to do. The players that he’s playing with are delighted to see him there because they know that he’ll always cover their backs. We learned during lockdown, when there were no supporters in the ground to drown out his voice, just how vocal he can be during a football match. You can imagine it might wind some players up, but they’ll never stop running if they know he’s there encouraging them.

This Liverpool team has been assembled by Jürgen Klopp and his team with the specific intention of having as many leaders on board as possible. Andy Robertson is Scotland captain; Virgil van Dijk captains the Netherlands; Trent Alexander-Arnold is a Liverpool captain in waiting; yet all of them look up to Jordan Henderson. They know that being a captain is about so much more than being the best player on the pitch. Indeed, some excellent club captains have been bang average as players. Hendo doesn’t fit into that category, being a brilliant passer of the ball and someone with great insight. For some, it will never be enough, for the people that matter it is an added bonus to what a brilliant person and captain he is. The haters will never be pleased, but he doesn’t need to try to please them. When he finally hangs up his boots, he’ll know that he did everything that his managers and teammates asked of him, which is why he’s so beloved by his peers and, for the most part, the Anfield crowd.

Gerrard Was Always A Tough Act To Follow

There was a bloke behind me on the Kop who very clearly hated Henderson. He would sarcastically call him ‘captain fantastic’ and make snidy comments if he had a shot that went wide. In the end I had to have words with him, such was the extent to which his moaning wound me right up. Aside from anything else, I didn’t really see how it helped anything to have some idiot on the Kop constantly bad-mouthing the club captain. In a generous mood, I’d suggest that he didn’t like him for the simple reason that he wasn’t Steven Gerrard. The former club captain’s boots were always going to be tough ones to fill and it was clear that Hendo was intimidated to begin with. In the months and years that followed, however, the former Sunderland man grew to become his own captain. It was like he realised that he couldn’t be the same sort of captain as Gerrard so why even try to be? He began to forge his own path and became a better captain for it, growing into the role in impressive style.

In fact, there’s an easy argument to make that he is a better captain than Steven Gerrard was. It’s important to realise that there’s a difference between being a better captain and a better player. There’s no question that Gerrard was the latter, given that he was one of the best players ever to pull on a red shirt. Yet in his job as a leader of the club, Henderson has excelled. As a Liverpool supporter, there’s no one I would rather be my representative on the global stage, being an entirely suitable second-in-command to Jürgen Klopp. Neither of them are Scousers, yet they both absolutely get what it means to be associated with the football club and the city. There are more technical players at the club now, there have been in the past and there will be in the future, but for me, Jordan Henderson is my favourite of them all. The only thing I’ll ever ask of Liverpool players is that they put their all into their job on the pitch and that’s something that Hendo never needs to be asked to do. A brilliant man, an excellent player, a wonderful captain. Thank you, Jordan Henderson.

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