Jordan Henderson has fought. For a casual football fan, his status as captain of the best team in club football indicates his ability as one of the premier midfielders in Europe. However, the journey to potential Player Of The Year (POTY) candidate has been far from straightforward. We take a look..
Jordan Henderson – New Kid On The Block
When acquired for a then costly £16 million, many football fans questioned Liverpool’s new signing. With Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and a declining Bellamy brought in, you can be forgiven for understanding their scepticism. Yet Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool royalty, was unfazed by the discussion surrounding his new midfielder.
“Jordan is very mature for his age. He is respectful and his principles and everything else on and off the pitch are exemplary. Not only is he a talented footballer, but he’s a really good person as well.”– Kenny Daglish
What Dalglish understood and what the common short termism of football didn’t project was that Jordan Henderson was a precedent for what FSG envisioned the culture being at Liverpool. Young, unflappable and in tune with those who mattered the most: Liverpool fans. Henderson was never brought in to replace Gerrard or to be a talisman like Luis Suarez. He was brought in on the merit of his ability and character. Dalglish and FSG believed that they had found a man who could begin to embody the club, whilst infecting others around him with his overwhelming determination and hard work.
His first season struggles didn’t help shift the narrative. Often pushed out wide in a system that was dated and out of sync, Henderson drowned on the right. He lacked both the physical and technical ability to become the new scoring winger like Arjen Robben and Gareth Bale. His first season brought a League Cup medal his direction yet a disappointing eighth place finish meant that Dalglish, a key ally to Henderson, was on his way out. This resulted in the appointment of Ulsterman Brendan Rodgers – fair to say the nadir and making of Jordan Henderson’s Liverpool career.
The arrival of Brendan Rodgers meant the arrival of a new style of football. Possession based and Rodgers had made it clear where Henderson was in his plans. The arrival of Joe Allen, infamously dubbed the ‘Welsh Xavi’ and Nuri Sahin, Rodgers told Henderson that he had been offered in a deal for Clint Dempsey and was free to leave Anfield if he pleased. By Jordan Henderson’s own admission, this was the lowest football had made him feel. However, at the same time, he felt this could the turning point in his career.
“I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t have that moment. It was tough at the time but thankfully it worked out okay in the end.”Jordan Henderson in an interview with TalkSport.
Liverpool did not have the luxury of waiting on players to develop. Finishing eighth had meant that the goal for Brendan Rodgers was clear; the return of Champions League football. This gave him the green light to shape his squad as he pleased. Henderson was in no mood to be left behind.
Knuckling down, he found his spot centrally in Liverpool’s strongest XI alongside the newly remade deep-playmaking Gerrard. This led to something special when coupled with the ascending form of Luis Suarez, the snip of Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea and the emergence of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho.
An excellent 2013-14 season followed. The partnership of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling produced 88 G/A, whilst Jordan Henderson’s tireless running and slick passing allowed Steven Gerrard to enjoy an Indian summer, with 13 goals and 14 assists, as Liverpool nearly fired their way to a first league title since 1990. Unfortunately, Premier Leagues are not won with defences comprised of Simon Mignolet, Martin Skrtel and Aly Cissokho. Liverpool finished 2nd to Yaya Toure’s Manchester City and doubt was cast in the minds of many.
Some said that Rodgers’ naivety against a seasoned Mourinho had meant that Liverpool played into Chelsea hands during their 2-0 home loss. Others speculated that ‘Crystanbul’, where Liverpool drew after being 3-0 up at Selhurst Park, was really the coup de grâce. Yet, perhaps the most reasonable argument for The Reds downfall came from the manager himself. Rodgers, who only two years ago was ready to discard Henderson, told The Telegraph: “The story that went unnoticed was Jordan [Henderson] was unavailable for three of the last four games because of a last-minute sending off against City. He was a huge miss for us that day (against Chelsea)”.
Liverpool had missed out on the title that season but Jordan Henderson, for the first time, felt like he truly belonged.
Rodgers lasted only a season and two months more. Liverpool struggled with replacing Suarez, who had moved to Barcelona to form an outrageous front three with Lionel Messi and Neymar. Signings like Rickie Lambert, Benteke and Balotelli failed spectacularly. This, alongside Gerrard’s inevitable decline, meant that Liverpool were once again at a crossroads.
It must be noted that despite Liverpool’s problems the following season, Henderson put together his most productive season to date with six goals and nine assists. Liverpool were stuttering but Henderson was not.
Now the Liverpool captain, many football fans laughed; replacing Liverpool’s greatest captain with a midfielder who had never hit double digits in assists or goals? Even Liverpool fans were not overly keen. However, those behind the scenes, Gerrard included, knew he had what it took to take the captaincy permanently. Although, the only opinion that mattered was the Liverpool manager and, when Klopp was appointed, he stood by his man.
In all honesty, there probably was not a manager better suited in world football for Jordan Henderson than Jurgen Klopp. Henderson has come to symbolize Klopp’s Liverpool on and off the pitch. It is under Klopp that he truly replaced Gerrard. Pushed into an alien number six role, Henderson dictated play and broke it up. Alongside Lallana and Wijnaldum, Henderson set the tempo for Klopp’s gegenpressing whilst truly evolving into the Liverpool captain. Yet, not until the astute purchase of Fabinho from Monaco, had we seen the best of Henderson…
In a number 8 role, few are as good as Jordan Henderson. Box to box, he is as adept at flying into a last-ditch tackle as he is providing the final ball. Often the man before the assist, Henderson has put together his most impressive season to date. The ability to do both sides of the game at a hundred miles an hour have even catapulted him into the POTY discussion.
In a midfield that has no natural creative midfielder and has been without Fabinho for the entire Christmas period, Henderson has essentially played two positions. Whilst Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah take turns to score the goals and Gomez has rotated with Lovren and Matip, only Virgil Van Dijk and Jordan Henderson have kept their place in Liverpool’s core.
Van Dijk could easily win a second consecutive POTY, but no player has truly embodied Liverpool this season quite like Jordan Henderson. Relentless, aggressive but with a touch of finesse. When he signed in 2011 for £16 million, many doubted. When tasked with replacing Liverpool’s greatest captain, many doubted. Now when being talked about as POTY, many are once again doubting. But by now, people should know Jordan Henderson thrives when underestimated.
For more like this, follow us @TasteOfFtbl on Twitter!