JORDAN Henderson is one of the most closely scrutinised Liverpool players of recent times, having gone from being deemed expendable by the club to taking the captain’s armband after the departure of Steven Gerrard, writes JOSH SEXTON.
Not many would disagree that Stevie was one of the greatest captains in the club’s history, so it was always going to be a tough act to follow for the midfielder signed by Kenny Dalglish for £16million five years ago this week.
But, despite 22 goals and 34 assists in his 212 appearances for Liverpool, many Reds are still yet to be convinced that Henderson is the right man to wear the armband at Anfield.
— Joe Barbieri (@jbdotco) June 10, 2016
Fans of other teams reckon they have got the midfielder sussed, claiming he’s trying too hard to be like his predecessor, or that he’s generally just not that good. But, we’re not arsed what they think, are we?
One of Liverpool’s greatest ever managers, and players in Dalglish brought Henderson to Anfield, a move which, although he looked a player with relative promise, did raise an eyebrow or two.
There was no doubt that he struggled to adapt to life on Merseyside, and he was often shunted out to the wing in an effort to crowbar him into the side by Dalglish.
His struggles were compounded by the fact that Brendan Rodgers had him lined up as a makeweight in a deal to sign Clint Dempsey, a move which, in hindsight, would have been less than beneficial for the Reds. And that’s putting it kindly.
Despite these setbacks, the England international got his head down and pushed on, eventually making himself a regular under Rodgers, who saw him as the natural successor to Gerrard after it was confirmed he was to leave the club.
Of the Dempsey swap, Henderson later said: “When the manager told me I could go to Fulham it was a bit of a shock at first. What he said came as a sort of bolt from the blue. I think the Dempsey situation had stalled, but it wasn’t really of interest to me.
“I worked really had to come to a club like Liverpool and I didn’t want to leave in a hurry. I want to stay at Liverpool for as long as I can. I want to keep fighting for my place and I told the manager that.
“I said I wanted to stay and keep fighting because I believe I can get into the team. Some people might have thought they’d rather go and play football but I said I will continue to work hard every day, keep fighting and I believe I have the ability to be in the team.”
At first it looked like the right move — during his time as vice-captain he appeared to lead the team well, he became more vocal and more aggressive, and he looked as though his game had started to benefit as a result, though there were still some question marks about his ability, particularly in the final third.
Henderson, however, has struggled to kick on this season, as injuries have halted his progress, leading to further scrutiny about his role in the team, and even about his future at Anfield.
James Milner has excelled during the second half of the season, particularly in Henderson’s absence, and he has become one of the names put forward to replace the former Sunderland man as captain for the next campaign, while the ever popular Mamadou Sakho — current situation pending — is another name in the hat.
Such is the fickle nature of modern football, the captain has been criticised heavily in his absence in some quarters, to the extent that his long-term future at the club is now being questioned — something which was unthinkable at the time he took over the armband a year ago.
The criticism seems unfair, particularly given his contribution to the 2013-4 season. Henderson, struggling with a heel injury, has not been able to get a consistent run of games under his belt, having only featured in 17 league games this campaign. And yet despite this he has always given his all for the club when he’s pulled on the red shirt.
However, there is an argument to say that he isn’t the best candidate to captain the club going forward, and that one of the previously mentioned names may be more suited.
So it does beg the question whether Henderson has a future at Liverpool, and what role he can play in future. The Reds are entering a new era, and a first full season, with Jürgen Klopp as manager and Henderson can serve as a reminder of how the previous regime under Rodgers ultimately failed.
However, at 25 years old he still has something to offer to the club and, if he can put his injuries worries behind him, he could still go on to match the potential that Kenny saw in him five years ago when he brought him to the club.
10 – Jordan Henderson has 10 assists in the Premier League since the start of last season; more than any other English player. Spark.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 17, 2015
Under Klopp’s system work rate is clearly important, and this is something Henderson can offer in abundance when fully fit. His range of passing and ability to carve out chances isn’t to be sniffed at, either, but if there’s one part of his game he does need to improve on, it’s goals.
So should he remain as captain? It’s tough to say right now. Klopp backed him on arrival but, ultimately, it comes down to what the manager wants from his captain. While Henderson appears to have the respect of his teammates, he does lack certain qualities that were more prevalent in some of the Reds’ past leaders.
It could also come down to what the fans think of Henderson. Klopp has always emphasised how important the supporters are in his plans, and if they ultimately don’t agree that the midfielder is the correct candidate, it could prove to be an influence on the manager’s thinking.
The period of transition the Reds are in the midst of could mean a move for a ready-made leader in the middle of the park, too, an option that shouldn’t be ruled out.
However, it would seem unfair to strip Henderson of the armband now, given that he has barely had hold of it for a season. He should be given the chance to prove whether he has what it takes under Klopp. Time will then tell if he is the right choice.
The promise he had shown as Gerrard’s deputy should be enough to solidify his position for now, and given a consistent run of games nobody would be more eager to try to win the fans over than the man himself.
“You are always pushing yourself to be better and to do more,” Henderson said last December. “There are always going to be people challenging your position and that is part and parcel of football. That is healthy.”
Henderson has showed us he will fight to stay at Liverpool once before. Perhaps we are about to see that once again.