Article written by Jay Pearson.
Jurgen Klopp famously said on his first day as Liverpool boss:
“We have to change from doubters to believers.”
This was aimed at the entire LFC family. For staff players and fans to embrace.
If someone said to you seven or eight years ago that Jordan Henderson would one day lift the Champions League for Liverpool Football Club, many would have had to asked the following questions;
Are you alright lad?
Have you fallen down? Did you hit your head?
Those drugs you took? How much were they?
Social Media is like the open window in someone’s house. They can shout what they want through it and it gets heard, but they’ve ran away before you can do anything about it.
One of the many statements that was doing the rounds on social media during the latter stages of the 18/19 campaign, that it would be “odd” or “horrendous” to see Henderson lifting the biggest prizes in club football.
But it’s not the first time the Liverpool Captain has been questioned, not just in these terms, but in many aspects of his career. But this piece is designed and written to prove exactly why Jordan Henderson is the perfect example of a footballer and human being that deserves to lift the biggest prizes in football.
In June 2011, Liverpool completed the signing of Jordan Henderson in a deal worth £20m leaving his boyhood club, Sunderland.
Reds director of football at the time Damien Comolli was instrumental in the deal and said
“He has got all the skills technically that we needed, “He’s good with the ball, he’s creative, he’s got good passing, he’s physically very good.”
Henderson finished his first season at Liverpool with a League Cup winners medal. But with just two goals in 44 games, had we seen the player that Comolli spoke so highly about?
At the time, I certainly thought he had bags of potential, but ultimately, I had a feeling the move had come a bit too early for him. Why was Kenny playing him out wide most games? He’s a central midfielder, but surely, he should be good enough to prove to Kenny that he should be playing there?
Remember when Brendan Rodgers painfully tried to sign Clint Dempsey in 2012? Most of us try and forget. It was awkward wasn’t it?
Well, Henderson was a make-weight in the deal, but fair play to Hendo, he refused to leave. He knew he could contribute to this new look side under this new young manager and was determined to prove everyone why he deserved to be at Liverpool.
He split opinion in Rodgers’ first season.
I liked the way he played football. Sometimes in the mould of a young Steven Gerrard. I was hoping he would learn from him the same way Gerrard learned from Gary McAllister during Liverpool’s treble season in 2001. But another season of making most of his appearances from the bench and as a squad role were raising concerns for a second consecutive year and gossip pages were hinting at a move away from Anfield again.
Early in Henderson’s third season with the club, Sir Alex Ferguson was one of his first high profile critics. Manchester United had looked at the former Sunderland player, but decided against purchasing him because of his running style.
“We noticed that Henderson runs from his knees, with a straight back, while the modern footballer runs from his hips” said the former United manager.
STARTING TO BELIEVE
The 13/14 ‘Make Us Dream’ campaign was obviously one to remember.
A team with a Rocky Balboa-esque underdog quality that failed to ‘go down’, kept going and went the distance. But let’s not talk too much about it. It still hurts for all of us.
What we will talk about is how the Sunderland born midfielder was an instrumental part of that team.
Henderson was one of the first names on the teamsheet and formed a formidable partnership with Steven Gerrard in midfield.
He was third behind Steven Gerrard and Simon Mignolet in terms of minutes played. Intelligent passing to old school tackling, smart off the ball play and his reading of the game led to people starting to believe we had a midfielder capable of replacing (to an extent) the gap that Gerrard would eventually leave behind. There is that influence I spoke about earlier. Assists at Anfield in-particular against Aston Villa and Cardiff were absolutely sublime. Standing on tables, knocking drinks over sublime, just to applaud them!
It was highlighted even more when he was suspended during the most pivotal time of the season. Had he been in the team, many believed things could have turned out quite differently. No one wanted Gerrard to retire, but we all knew it was close and inevitable. After Jordan’s performances that season, I was thinking ‘we might be ok here’. Henderson could well be the man to fill that gap.
During the 14/15 campaign Henderson was again, a mainstay of the Liverpool midfield. He played in all but one of the 38 Premier League games.
But it was the morning of Liverpool’s return to the Champions League group stage that the Northern Irish Manager decided to hand Henderson the Liverpool vice-captaincy after Daniel Agger had left the club.
This was an incredible turnaround given the slow start to his Anfield career and few would have predicted back then that Henderson would be given such an honour. Me included.
I didn’t see that coming. I didn’t think he had the ‘voice’, Carragher style or high-level influence Gerrard style.
However, for any young players, this was a prime example of how to silence your critics by getting your head down, ignoring all the negativity and believing in your ability as a player and as a person.
Henderson had contributed seven goals and 15 assists in all comps. His best return yet and also, a second season of high-level consistency for Liverpool’s new vice-captain.
Gerrard was in and out of the team for various reasons and had announced his retirement in the January of that season. Henderson stepped in and led the team when he was called upon and did so with immense pride and determination. Henderson v Diego Costa became one of the greatest social media GIFs ever.
In July 2015, Henderson was officially named captain of Liverpool Football Club. Brendan Rodgers said at the time “Jordan is someone who leads through example – through his actions, attitude and application. He shows total commitment to the game and is a role model professional”
It was another accolade to add to a growing list of accomplishments on and off the pitch for Henderson. But this was the ultimate. He was the man chosen to lead Liverpool into a new era.
INJURIES AND THE DREADED ‘FIFA CURSE’
The 15/16 season saw Hendo hit with two major injuries. At the start he suffered a metatarsal injury and would keep him out for a lengthy period. This disrupted his season dramatically.
In February 2016 Henderson led the Reds out at Wembley in his first final as Liverpool Captain. He missed out on the chance to lift the trophy as Liverpool were beaten on penalties by Manchester City.
A torn knee ligament would rule Jordan out for the latter part of the season, but he did make the bench in the Europa League Final defeat to Sevilla.
Now, bear with me with this next one it’s a weird one, but it does get your brain thinking!
Some people were talking about the ‘FIFA Curse’. There was lots of head scratching when Henderson was voted as the cover star for EA’s latest instalment of the best-selling FIFA video game series. CUE THE FUME!
He was alongside Lionel Messi as the faces of the game in the UK. But many of the cover stars that have been chosen in the past have had disrupted seasons while that version of the game has been in circulation. Jack Wilshire, Theo Walcott and Eden Hazard all had poor seasons during their time gracing the cover. Of course, this is all just pure coincidence. So do not hold me responsible for pointing this out!
A CASE OF DÉJÀ VU?
After the injury hit campaign, which saw a potential ‘life without Hendo’, things did not get any better for him at the 2016 European Championships. England were very disappointing all round, but Henderson was criticised more than most. This led to people talking about Henderson moving on so Liverpool could “move forward” and push for the top four. But Klopp knew what type of player he had on his hands.
During 16/17 season, the German played Henderson in every game he had him available. Only for his campaign to be cut short by another season ending injury. What most of us noticed was that Henderson was playing a deeper role under Klopp. Jordan is in the same mould as James Milner, he will play anywhere for the team. He played a more advanced role under Rodgers and for two years he was contributing goals and assists regularly.
There was no question he was doing a job for the team given the squad Klopp had at his disposal, but it raised questions of the “Henderson of old” and if he was still the right fit for Liverpool.
CAPTAINCY QUESTIONED AND ANSWERED WITH A SCREAM!
As Liverpool were set to embark on what would turn out to be a memorable 17/18 campaign, Champions League football was back and Liverpool needed to add depth to the squad.
Henderson was not in every starting 11 like previous seasons. When he did play, he was back to his more defensive role in the team, allowing the ‘Fab Four’ to get forward with the help of Lallana and The Ox. He was in rotation with Emre Can, but Can was in great form proving why Juventus were chasing him. Which ultimately kept Jordan out of the team.
Christmas day landed on 27th December 2017 when Liverpool announced that they had signed Virgil Van Dijk. There was so much buzz around Anfield and pure jealousy everywhere else. Liverpool had signed an absolute colossus of a defender and before he even kicked a ball for Liverpool, we all knew our said ‘defensive problems’ were gone. The big beautiful Dutchman had just performed a metaphorical defensive mic drop without even putting on the red shirt yet.
Our new number four made such a big and immediate impact that people were calling for him to be made captain of the team.
I must admit, I was of that opinion. I never wanted to sell Henderson, definitely not. But I felt that Virgil was being brought in to eventually take the armband. Maybe at the end of the season.
That same December, Henderson was again under the microscope. In and out of the side and people were again questioning if he had what it takes. Including Didi Hamann who said that he simply “wasn’t good enough” and questioned whether he was “a Liverpool captain”
One thing I always wanted from Hendo as captain, was for him to be more vocal on the pitch and have the same intensity on his face when he scores a goal. Have a look at videos of him after he has scored a goal, he’s fired up more than ever. Shouting, swearing and looks positively angry. That’s what I wanted. I always thought “why can’t he be like that all the time?”
“…taking over Rome!”
Fast forward to the final whistle in the 2nd leg of the Champions League semi-final in Rome and all those questions were answered and with a sense of AND WHAT?!
Henderson’s reaction in that moment was nothing short of incredible. His scream into the air with two arms pumping like he’d just won the competition! It’s that emotion I was talking about earlier, the intensity every time he scores a goal. But you what, his intensity is right there for all to see. He is the type of leader that doesn’t need to be doing a “Carra”, screaming and shouting all the time, he does when he needs to, but he leads in many ways. But he does it his way. This is his team.
When he went into the crowd and grabbed a ‘SEAN COX’ banner and demanded the entire team stand together, sing YNWA and dedicate the victory to Sean, it was in this moment that any and all doubters had truly disappeared. This is what a captain of this club does. This was our captain and our captain was about to lead us into a Champions League Final against the might of Real Madrid.
Henderson’s post-match interview in Kyiv was heart-breaking for me to watch. As it was for many of us. Football doesn’t have many ‘one man’ club players these days, but Henderson’s post-match comments and emotions made him sound like he was one. You could see how much it would have meant to him, to lift the Champions League for a club he had spent the last seven years serving. It’s those qualities I love to see in many captains. Pure passion for the club and always knowing that the name on the front of the shirt is more important than the one on the back. Henderson knew that this Liverpool team was special and not a ‘one season wonder’ He was determined to lead this team back to another final immediately.
KNOCK, KNOCK JURGEN
Everyone knows that Jurgen Klopp is a very approachable person. Everyone would love a Klopp hug. You’d be motivated for months! I would be anyway. But would you question the decisions and plans of such a genius manager?
Would you have “der Hoden” to do it? (Google Translate that before you continue)
Henderson definitely did. My respect for Hendo went even higher after he told Klopp he wanted to play a more advanced role in the team. He felt he could contribute more to the team playing further up the pitch. We found out straight away that he was absolutely right when he came on against Southampton. His influence changed the game in the same mould as the previous Liverpool captain did many times.
His performance and leadership against Barcelona in the ‘Miracle of Anfield’ will be up there with Gerrard’s in Istanbul for me. He played through an injury to give arguably his best performance in the shirt. He left it all on the pitch. You could see the raw emotion as that final whistle went. He fell to the floor as he was on empty. He’d given everything to make sure Liverpool made it to another Champions League Final and give themselves a chance to avenge the heartbreak in Kyiv.
REDEMPTION IN MADRID
“Jordan Henderson lifting the Champions League Trophy will be one of the worst things to see in football”
Well, it happened! One of the supposed ‘worst’ things in football.
Jordan Henderson lifted the Champions League Trophy above his head on 1st June 2019.
Henderson and Gerrard are two different people, players and Captains. They have the similarities, but none more so than their faces when lifting the biggest prize in club football.
But both of those videos side by side and you can see what it means to lift the European Cup over your head for this football club.
The footage and photos of him breaking down in tears in Klopp’s arms was eight years of ups and downs culminating in the biggest honour in European Football.
To have the thick skin to carry on after so many set-backs, criticisms and metaphoric walls to knock down is a testament to him as a player and more importantly a human being. It is what a leader does. Lovren and Van Dijk were a testament to this when they pushed Hendo towards the fans and pointed above his head during the celebrations, as if to say, ‘it’s down to him that we did this.’
He represents the club in the most positive way and leads by example. The plaudits he received from his manager and team-mates after number six was brought home, shows why he is the perfect captain for this football club.
Emlyn Hughes, Graeme Souness, Phil Thompson and Steven Gerrard are all European Cup winning captains. Henderson can proudly add his name alongside those immortal names and it is not out of place.
Jordan Henderson is a Champions League winning Captain.
Here’s to you Jordan…
The Doubters are now the Believers.