Liverpool: The Jordan Henderson Question

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 14, 2016: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson in action during the FA Premier League match  against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

THE internet can be a ruthless place, Twitter especially. It’s the Western saloon of the Wild West, attracting all manner of people from across the board, shooting from the hip and asking questions later. It takes no prisoners, it leaves no survivors.

Certainly not after a Liverpool game, and not one as demoralising and gutless as the defeat at Burnley. It was awash with the hallmarks that pre-season was meant to wipe out — a slow start, ponderous possession play and a lack of imagination.

That it came a week after the thrilling, if not entirely flawless, victory at Arsenal seemed to heighten tensions among Reds fans. Two games that summed up the Jürgen Klopp reign so far — one step forward and two steps back. A brutal lack of consistency, with brilliance coming in flashes and stodginess aplenty.

Jordan Henderson was the biggest casualty of the customary Twitter fume. A montage of his ‘best bits’ at Turf Moor went viral. It had the lot — under-hit passes, over-hit passes, mis-controls, you name it.

It was comfortably his worst performance since taking the captaincy from Steven Gerrard, and probably his worst since that inauspicious first season under Kenny Dalglish. His display seemed to sum up that of his side, though by no means was he the worst offender.

It was a 90-minute performance that reflected what has happened to his Liverpool career in the past 12 months. Gone it seems is the fleet-footed ball of energy who harried and harassed to supreme effect in 2013-14, who started every league game in a 13-month spell and became indispensable to the way Brendan Rodgers instructed that thrilling Liverpool side to play.

It had all been set up for Henderson to make that natural step up in his career, having been handed the vice captaincy at the age of 24 and then replacing Gerrard 12 months later. At the same age his predecessor lifted the Champions League in 2005 and his game was improving year on year.

Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Queens Park Rangers FC

He lacked the technical capacity and ability to shape a game to his will that so defined Gerrard at that age, but Henderson was the unequivocal choice to take the armband. He rarely picked up injuries and looked on course to becoming a 10-goal a season midfielder — a target which had been the norm before the age of Gerrard and Frank Lampard redefined what people came to expect from that position.

In four seasons at the club he had appeared 37, 30, 35 and 37 times in the league. Armed with the captaincy and at the age of 25 that next step felt assured, almost inevitable. Yet five minutes into the second-half of the second game of the season the skipper is replaced by Emre Can and trudges down the tunnel towards the physio room.

He would never play under Rodgers again, and did not return to the pitch for another three months. Initially sidelined by a heel injury that required surgery, he broke a bone in his right foot upon his return to training. When it rains, it floods.

Mystery surrounded the heel injury and still does to this day. Reports surfaced that it stemmed from an incurable condition called plantar fasciitis, a pain that can only be healed by rest until it flares up again.

After years of staying injury-free, Henderson was now forced to play with a permanent niggle. His performances declined dramatically and he visibly struggled to get around the pitch in the same manner. That crucial role he had made his own in 2013-14 was impossible to replicate.

He could not run, turn around or shuttle from side-to-side. Those third man runs off the ball, hitting the edge of the area, all but disappeared. When he did so, twice against Manchester United in the Europa League, he fluffed his lines.

He was playing within himself, and largely within the central area of the pitch instead of box-to-box. Another injury, this time to his knee, curtailed his season and he missed Liverpool’s memorable Anfield performances that lifted them to the Europa League final, where he was an unused substitute. Even with the Reds losing the midfield battleground, Klopp did not turn to his captain to stem the tide.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 6, 2016: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp and captain Jordan Henderson after the 4-0 victory over FC Barcelona during the International Champions Cup match at Wembley Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Henderson arrived at the start of this season at a crossroads, and is so far struggling to re-assert himself, a point underlined by the surprise of many at his inclusion in the England squad.

His performance at Tottenham Hotspur represented an improvement but it still seems fair to ask: will he ever be the same player again? A dramatic question, perhaps, but from afar it looks as if something within the Liverpool captain has changed. It’s not just the injuries.

It is as if there has been a mentality shift within Henderson. Perhaps it predates the heel injury. But the midfielder willing to drive forward, put in a shift and cover every blade of grass has not been evident in almost 18 months. Since that week in March 2015, when he followed a beautiful top-corner curler past Joe Hart with a thumping drive from the edge of the box against Burnley, he has struggled to make that impact at the top-end of the pitch.

Maturing into his mid-twenties and taking the armband seems to have changed the midfielder Henderson thinks he is. He has dropped deeper, involving himself more in play from the base of midfield. Long, hopeful diagonals have become as frequent as incisive 10-yard balls forward.

Has he reached the age and stature that he believes his future role lies in central midfield, where he controls and dictates tempo? As players get older there is a natural desire to take on more senior roles in the side.

The engine room of midfield is a fascination for young English midfielders. Steven Gerrard was obsessed with central midfield, frequently telling anyone who would listen that that was his favoured position when all the evidence suggested it was far from his best. James Milner only moved to Liverpool because he was assured a starting role there by the manager.

English footballers tend to be impulsive rather than disciplined, a result of the way they are coached and the psyche of the culture in which they are developed. To conquer central midfield is the pinnacle, to be recognised as the best player on the pitch in the most important position.

There is an obsession with the recognition that comes with that responsibility, but the application to master the skills for that position seem to be lacking among the vast majority of English footballers. The best English player coming through in that position is Tottenham’s Eric Dier, whose footballing education came in Portugal.

Henderson’s style and capabilities do not suit that holding role, he is wasted in that withdrawn role which negates his greatest qualities. He needs to return to the role of being that midfield enabler, biting into tackles, pressing the ball and moving it around forwards at speed.

Standing around the centre circle, endless passes sideways and the odd Hollywood attempt are not his game. If injury means he can not fulfil his old role then a discussion needs to be had. Liverpool need Jordan Henderson to be himself, not some half-baked tribute act.

LISTEN: Tottenham Hotspur 1 Liverpool 1: The Pink.

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READ: Tottenham Hotspur 1 Liverpool 1: Match Review.

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28 Comments

  1. Henderson is a limited player. He can do good things but he rarely sands out as being a dominant figure. We need a leader on the pitch not some bloke who runs about and has an armband. He is essentially a decent squad player who has been over promoted.

  2. It’s rather odd to suggest that Henderson put himself in that deeper central midfield role when Klopp would’ve made the decision. Although we have many attacking midfield players in the squad the choice of players for the deeper midfield role isn’t that extensive. The role requires a player with a decent long range pass (I know Henderson isn’t at his best but on his day he can drop the ball on a sixpence from thirty yards) so the obvious candidates are Henderson and Milner. As the latter is currently being used as a left back Henderson would be the obvious choice (Can doesn’t really fulfill the playmaker role Klopp seems to be looking for).

    It’s worth remembering Klopp recently gave Henderson his full backing so if you’re doubting Henderson you’re also doubting Klopp’s judgement. If Klopp wanted to change captains the best time to do it would’ve been during the off-season. He didn’t. If Klopp thought Henderson wasn’t good enough he could’ve sold him during the transfer window. He didn’t. Klopp clearly has faith in Henderson, perhaps it’s time the rest of us show similar belief in a player who chose to play through obvious pain for us. Henderson at least deserves the chance to rediscover his form.

    • “It’s rather odd to suggest that Henderson put himself in that deeper central midfield role when Klopp would’ve made the decision.”
      I thought that was a bizarre thing to say too.

  3. The biggest disappointment, to me, about Klopp is his lack of ruthlessness. Leaving Henderson as captain shows he lacks something. Henderson wouldn’t get on the bench at City, Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea or any other club with genuine ambitions of winning the title, let alone captain them. Liverpools lack of consistency stems from their lack of leadership on the pitch. That fault lays at the managers door.

  4. “but Henderson was the unequivocal choice to take the armband”.

    I’ll take issue with that as I really don’t think he was. His choice as VC and then Captain was more, for me, the political choice by Rodgers at the time, to keep his burgeoning English camp sweet. There was no need to lump that pressure onto Henderson at all. To this day it’s something I think he’d benefit from not having (though obviously I’m not asking for him to be stripped of it mid season).
    Sadly he is not, for me, captaincy material, no matter how much you want it to be. If we were looking for a leader,a clubman to take over from SG then the natural choice was Lucas to be honest. A player who has the respect of every player and one who I suspect would rally and lead even from the bench.
    I think we’d see a better Henderson if he was free from the shackles of responsibility

    • robin crimes

      Can you be a good captain from the bench? I’d guess the reason Lucas wasn’t given it was because of the uncertainty over his future. He said himself he nearly went to Spain 3 years ago. 2 years ago he nearly went to Napoli and this summer it looked like he was off to Turkey. It always seems to fall through though through no fault of his own. I thought it was the right decision to not involve Lucas in the armband discussions.

      I have a theory that Rodgers tried to rid the squad of players with a personality. Maybe Klopp is doing similar. When Gerrard announced he was leaving the only candidate was Henderson. No one else was really mentioned and there was a reason for that.

      Excellent article btw.

      • Heckler&Kop

        Rodgers had to manage the fact he, as a manager, was inexperienced and evidently inept.

        First rate managers hire first rate staff, second rate managers hire third rate staff, third rate managers deny all responsibility once they have been fired.

        He was only hired because he was cheap.

        • robin crimes

          I don’t buy into that mate. I know you have issues with FSG and try and turn any negative in their direction, my mate does the same. There is some truth in some of your views on them.
          I think the psychology of it was a break from trying to recruit ex legends at the club, and much as i hate to write this, look for someone young and dynamic. Martinez was the other choice. I remember the young and dynamic line being touted by the club at the time. In many ways I was behind the sentiment of it. As with many of FSG’s approaches they realised it didn’t work and tried a new approach. Ok, finances at the club have improved since the days of recruiting Rodgers but Klopp certainly isn’t cheap. That single point makes me think you’ve got it wrong.

          • I can’t see Rodgers being £4m a year as KK reputedly was and certainly not £7m a year.

            Given Rodgers record, and the fact FSG clearly are profit focussed and John Henry doesnt give a fuck about the club ( he is never at the game,despite it being a hop in the private jet) , the only reason Rodgers could have been hired, is he was cheap. Cheaper even than Martinez, as even FSG must have been aware Rodgers inherited Martinez team.

            I don’t believe “young and dynamic” means a thing in management.

            When it comes to managing anything I care about, I want “experienced and proven” not “young and dynamic”…anx that was true when KK was fired and Rodgers hired.

            Unsurprisingly, Rodgers was a failure, and ended up in the SPL.

            FSG hired him and put the club back, and until they start showing some serious intentions in signings, and stop buying squad players, nothing will change.

          • I think there’s a contradiction there. FSG are profit based but don’t give a fuck about the club. What’s the one thing that can make FSG a huge profit? It’s success for the club.

            Why do you think Hodgson and Kenny were sacked?
            My view is they didn’t think enough progress has been made in the league for the money spent. That would suggest they want success (albeit on their terms admittedly).

            I think they thought that sacking managers was a costly business and where the young and dynamic came in. I saw it as young meant the manager could stay a long time and dynamic meant a more modern approach to the game than the previous 2 managers. The reality is, Rodgers blagged them with his vision of how it would be. People were impressed with Swansea and the as in transfer in general there was a feeling that if he can do that at a wank club imagine what he could do at a good club with resources. I’m not entirely stupid and bought into a bit myself. Another thing about the young and dynamic nonsense is I thought they were looking for someone who could inspire and get the best out of the cheap, young, foreign imports. It just so happened Rodgers turned out to be a sociopath.

            Regarding John Henry not coming to the games – I don’t think he deals with the day to day running of the club even by Skype. I think that’s down to Mike Gordon. Funnily enough, my mate makes that point whilst praising everything about Spurs. Obviously, you haven’t mentioned Spurs but out of interest their owner hasn’t been to a match in absolute years but runs the club day to day from the Caribbean.

            Look mate, I don’t entirely disagree with your views. I just think things are slightly less sinister than you make out. Liverpool is a cash cow for FSG but the deal was they’d bring success and maximise their profits. That’s how hedge funds, corporations, the wealthy elite and venture capitalists work. Failing enterprises don’t work for them. Personally, I’d like to see FSG sell part / all of the club now and move on. If they did I think their tenure would go down as ‘a period of bringing stability back to the club’. Nothing more nothing less. As fans we need more than that.

        • Other than 08/09, you’d have to go back to 80’s to find another Liverpool manager that earned 84 points at the end of the season. Many seasons, including the last, that’s enough to win the league.

          That’s a pretty impressive display for ineptitude – especially for someone with Aly Cissokho, Jose Enrique, Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan, and Simon Mignolet in charge of keeping the ball out of the net. Still managed a +50 goal difference.

          Rodgers was hired because FSG saw that they couldn’t outspend the other clubs to the title, and had to find someone capable of doing something completely different.

          Had we signed Sanchez instead of Balotelli, is there anyone here that doubts we would have gotten to the knock out rounds of the CL and returned the following season?

          • We conceded about 50 which is more than most teams do when getting 84 points. But…………. We had Suarez haha. The minute he left etc etc. Sorry Walter, I just love to wind people up because I know how much people hate that argument. True though haha.

            I think if I was managing the team with Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Gerrard, Coutinho and an in form Henderson I could have got 84 points.

            P.s You may remember that like you I was behind Rodgers. I thought he did ok. The end soured it a bit for me and probably changed how I view history. I understood why he was taken on and I don’t believe it was because he was cheap.

  5. It’s my opinion that managers pick captain’s now mainly based on who will likely play most. Henderson’s captaincy is now a big distraction in the whole discussion.

  6. I saw enough signs at Spurs to say give the lad a chance, he’s coming back into top form and is getting his head around what Klopp wants. When Can is back we’ll see the best of Jordon IMO, that’s our best 2 in combo. The stick he gets is frankly disgusting.

  7. I don’t see Henderson’s inconsistency as much different to coutinho, can, firmino and Sturridge

    We have a lot of good lads still fully getting to grips with what Klopp wants and it might take a little while longer.

    Seems some players are untouchable though whilst others are perfect fodder for scapegoat of the week.

  8. He shouldn’t be anywhere near the captaincy. Never a leader or someone who could have an effect on the game if need be. A Souness he isn’t and never will be (however good Klopp is).

    He’s the epitome of Liverpool, the acceptance of mediocrity and the continual lowering of expectations and standards over the last couple of decades.

    I’d be happy to see a bid of £25m by Spurs before the transfer window ends, we could then buy more children/potential instead of experienced internationals who can improve the first eleven. I think that’s the plan.

  9. Heckler&Kop

    Simply ask if sold, where would Henderson go? Similarly with the rest of the squad.

    No system or manager can compensate for mediocrity.

    The season is young, the players fresh and then weather good…I despair come February. Fuck FSG.

  10. Heckler&Kop

    To make a profit you reduce costs, especially where a brand is concerned….for example , Polo shirts with reptiles on made in Indonesia for 8p but sold for £70. The product is mediocre but people buy the brand. Like our squad…it’s mediocre but people buy the brand. FSG know this.

    If FSG where serious about winning, they would have thrown money at the club, growing the fan base year on year.

    There is no profit to be made by seriously competing in the SPL and CL, as the world’s biggest club prove.

    Read “Soccernomics” by Kuper…..a great read.

    • robin crimes

      Don’t buy into that mate. Obviously I’ve not read the book which you have and is probably by someone who knows what he’s talking about whereas my knowledge of it isn’t great but I have been following Utd’s share price over the years. It’s like all shares, confidence in the business means higher share prices. So, success means higher share prices and therefore more profit. If Liverpool had 1m fans today and over the next 3 years get relegated each year they’d probably still have 1m fans but the club would not be worth the same amount. That much I do know.

      Success brings added revenue from TV and commercial deals. Fact.

      My concern about FSG is not related to transfers per se, it’s about not paying top wages. Without that we’ll rarely attract the players we need to take us to the top long term.

    • Fair point but if your team continues to not win major trophies then the ‘brand’ eventually dissipates, Soccernomics or not.
      So FSG will continue to invest, how much depends on Klopps demands and how successful he can make the current team.

    • Bore off mate. Can you not push your anti FSG shite on any topic even when it’s completely unrelated.

  11. pauloffinland

    I shouldn’t worry, a fit Emre Can has a far higher ceiling than Jordan Henderson. Grujic looks quite something to. Hendo may well end up competing with Wijnaldum for the middle of the three. Could do with adding goals and composure to his game: he’s neither as good as his supporters would have it nor as bad as his deriders.

  12. Once Can is fully fit I can see Hendo competing with Lallana for r-mid.

  13. “Maturing into his mid-twenties and taking the armband seems to have changed the midfielder Henderson thinks he is. He has dropped deeper…”

    Are you suggesting Hendo picks where he plays? Not having that.

    He seems to me to be unassertive, almost too willing to do whatever is required of him.

    After a long injury plagued year plus, he is playing holding midfielder because Can isn’t up to speed yet. Hendo will then be one of three players vying for the two attacking midfielders (four if you count Grujic). Whether he can recover enough of his 13/14 mojo to nail down a permanent spot, time will tell. But wow, at least give him the chance to try.

  14. Don’t know why people are arsed who the captain is. Means nothing, you don’t need to have a bit of fabric wrapped round your arm to be a leader.

  15. Ha. It looks to be that you spoke a little too soon with this article about today’s England captain.

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