AFTER a wonder goal that was greeted with little more than a grunt by the Liverpool-indifferent Martin Tyler and with a Marko Grujic-style open mouth by everyone else, it’s easy to praise Jordan Henderson today.
After the passion that poured from his celebration as he screamed “Fucking come on, YES” as he sprinted away from one of the best strikes of his career, it’s easy to offer up two fingers to those in your Reds-supporting number who have doubted the captain while you have argued otherwise.
Henderson turned in his best display in red in some time at Stamford Bridge on Friday. So right now it’s an easy time to rate him.
Equally, it was easy for Henderson’s doubters to have their moment when Liverpool crashed at Burnley and the captain was all at sea in a defensive midfield role.
Similarly, Henderson struggled in the early stages at Arsenal — too many passes sideways, too many moments showing up a player not sure.
What seemed to go amiss in the flood of criticism that came his way is that Henderson is being asked to play another new position for Liverpool. Again. He has detailed the coaching that has gone into it. The chats with Željko Buvač, the work at Melwood and the try outs pre-season. But none of that is preparation for the Premier League.
Now, a defensive midfielder. Previously, a central midfielder expected to burst into the opposition box. Before that positioned wide under Kenny Dalglish in a slot that did neither the individual or the collective any favours.
Henderson even enjoyed a brief cameo at right back away at Blackburn Rovers.
Whatever the job asked of him during his time at Liverpool, Henderson has got on with it with minimum fuss. No toys out of the pram, no mad headlines, no problems. Just a head down and hard work.
When players are outspoken, it’s regularly suggested that it’s fair enough; that professional players are well within their rights to put it out there where they would prefer to play.
Henderson, instead, has just cracked on with it. Never has there been a hint of a player not trying, of a player not desperate to improve, of a player not putting everything he has into making it work at Liverpool.
In terms of natural ability, is he one of the best to ever pull on the shirt in the middle of the park? Probably not. But he doesn’t claim to be. And the standards set in that area of the park in the history of Liverpool FC are not the easiest of benchmarks to reach. We had the best midfield in the world, remember?
In the early stages of his Liverpool career, Henderson was interviewed by a journalist at Melwood. After the recorder was switched off at the end of the interview, Henderson turned the tables and asked the writer a question. “What do the fans think of me?”
It’s just a moment. A snapshot. But it’s also an insight into a player that has always strived to improve, always been professional and always looked for ways he can improve. There is something to be said for that.
No fluke. Used to do this in training & worked hard at it. Was always practicing with Stevie G, Suarez & Coutinho https://t.co/03QGzz9FZ6
— DrZaf (@sportsdrzaf) September 16, 2016
This isn’t a player just picking up his wages, going through the motions and thinking he has made it because he is at Liverpool. We’ve had our share of those. It isn’t a player happy to sign the contracts only to renege on their side of the deal by looking for another pay-day elsewhere. We’ve had our share of those, too.
No instead, Henderson is a thinker. A trier. A player committed to making the best of his ability. And, above all, he is a reliable player that managers clearly value — one that appears to listen to what they say and carries out their instructions without fuss.
In five years at Liverpool, Henderson has racked up 218 appearances for the club, playing regularly under Kenny Dalglish, Brendan Rodgers and now Klopp. To suggest all have got it wrong doesn’t really stack up. We only ever see part of the player — the man on the pitch. The player behind the scenes counts, too. How he trains, how he interacts with team-mates, how he is taking on board instruction and how he is dealing with the lows as well as the highs.
In Henderson’s first four seasons at Liverpool, he racked up more than 40 appearances in each campaign, and it was only during the last campaign when he had trouble with foot, heel and knee problems that the count dropped to 26. Traditionally, he has been a player who can be relied on.
Talking about the season 2013-14 is now very tired as a concept, along with the ‘nearly won the league’ moniker that comes with it, but it is odd that memories have faded to an extent that Henderson’s red card against Manchester City in April 2014 — and the hand wringing that followed as a player then considered key was suspended for three games — has been forgotten.
Instead, Henderson’s first real dip in regular first-team football at Liverpool prompted calls that he was now dispensable; that Liverpool should think about an upgrade — even that Jürgen Klopp should consider someone else for the captaincy.
Hardly the best backdrop for improvement for someone who cares about what fans make of him.
And yet Henderson could now be emerging into the light once again. Few would want him dropped on the basis of his performance at Chelsea and — if he can reach that level more consistently — the doubters will soon be quietened once again.
Because it’s not the first time football’s Grim Reaper has come calling for Henderson’s time at Anfield. Yet then, too, he prevailed in the face of those that doubted him — a number that on that occasion included the manager.
It’s easily forgotten four years on that Henderson was offered as a makeweight in a failed bid for Fulham’s Clint Dempsey in the summer of 2012.
Speaking later that year, he said: “I worked really hard 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. I just wanted to focus on playing for Liverpool, work hard and get myself 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.”
The decision to stay and what followed — a transformation into a mainstay in the team under the same manager (and later the appointment as captain) — showed that Henderson has a spirit and determination that is vital in a game that cares little for the human side of things.
Given the circumstances, a Stewart Downing-style shrinking into introspection would have been understandable. Instead, Henderson was true to his word. He keeps on working, he keeps on fighting. And he’s still here, now winning big games for Liverpool.
Criticising what Henderson can’t do with a football is easy, and has been a common occurrence since he arrived at Liverpool. This season, he can’t play defensive midfield. Back then he couldn’t play on the wing. Or he doesn’t score enough goals. He even runs wrong, because Alex Ferguson says so.
A glance at Henderson’s career stats suggests he has never been prolific in front of goal, so why are his 23 goals at Liverpool almost held against him in some quarters? His best count for the Reds in a season is seven in 2014-15. At Sunderland, he scored five in 79 appearances.
On loan at Coventry City, Henderson scored one in 10 games, despite Tim Sherwood’s insistence on Goals On Sunday this week that he was “doing that sort of thing at Coventry” when talking of his strike at Stamford Bridge.
Why is there not instead a focus on what Henderson can do at the football club? He is capable of a goal, but it is not his raison d’etre. He is an all-energy midfielder. A player who knits the play. An intelligent footballer capable of a good pass and a good goal but also a protector who can join it all together. He is an organiser that can contribute at both ends of the pitch, and one who has been on the pitch more on often than not both in terms of staying fit and keeping his discipline.
It seems Henderson is constantly held against unrealistic standards few will reach in the game. Top of the list: Steven Gerrard.
When Henderson succeeded Gerrard as captain of Liverpool, he was taking the armband from a bona-fide great — a player who turned out 710 times for the Reds and scored 186 times; a man who lifted the European Cup. For a generation of Liverpool fans, Steven Gerrard is peerless.
Comparing Henderson to Gerrard is unfair and unhelpful. They are boots that in many ways can’t be filled, certainly not anytime soon. It is Mission Impossible.
When Gerrard himself spoke to The Anfield Wrap in America this summer following a chance meeting at the game, it was perhaps telling that he took the conversation to Henderson without any prompting.
He said then: “We all need to get behind Jordan — the manager, the staff and the fans. He had a very difficult year last year with injuries.
“I’ve been there when you’re on the floor with injuries and you’re frustrated. It affects your confidence — you’re desperate to get back and other players are coming in, doing well and people are doubting you, saying maybe we should move him on.
“If we all get behind Henderson and he finds his top form he can be a very big asset for Klopp this year. I hope he starts the season strong and gets his confidence early. I just want everyone to get behind him and give him that chance.”
The former captain has faith in the current one and yet some still say Henderson shouldn’t be captain. Some say he isn’t fit to be captain (and in the next breath will quote the greats — Gerrard, Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish, Emlyn Hughes and Tommy Smith).
But who should be the captain? James Milner? Dejan Lovren? Emre Can? Joel Matip? There isn’t a stand-out candidate apart from the man who actually holds the armband.
And as for not being ‘fit’ for the captaincy (apart from the fact that he is), there is the small matter of players like Jamie Redknapp, Paul Ince and Mark Wright being awarded the honour in the past. Every single player to wear the armband at Liverpool hasn’t been a captain fantastic in the Steven Gerrard mould yet it seems Henderson is only ever compared to the greats when it comes to criticising his suitability.
After Chelsea, it was telling that Klopp went to Henderson early for his on-pitch man hug. He got a chat as well as the customary embrace. The beaming smiles on both men suggested a conversation somewhere sometime off the pitch had just come true on it.
Henderson might not be the superstar, the big shirt seller or the man making the world 11 in the back bedroom of the FIFA players, but he is respected by his team-mates, respected by his manager, and perhaps he deserves a little more respect further afield.
No less than Pele once said success is a result of hard work, perseverance, learning, sacrifice and love of what you do.
Henderson has displayed all of those things at Liverpool.
Perhaps, under Klopp, he can finally taste success beyond playing an hour in the League Cup final win in 2012.
If anyone deserves it, he does.
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Great article Gareth. I’ve come to terms with Henderson being one of those players some will never see the value of, or one that can never live up to the value us ‘fans’ place on them. I almost hope he gets the England armband as well. 30% because I can give two fingers up to EVERYONE, 70% because I think he’s a good player.
”HERE’S TO YOU JORDAN HENDERSON, JURGEN LOVES YOU MORE THAN YOU WILL KNOW, OH OH OH”
Good article. Balotelli is a much more skillful player than Henderson but I know which one I would rather have. The first time he lifts a trophy for us is going to be a great day.
Best piece i’ve read in a while.
I belive that finally we have a team that leaves it all on the pitch. No “big name egos” only good players who works hard.
Thats what Lfc always been about, thats what won us titles.
So give our lads roars, easier on the grunts.
Great article Gareth. Really pleased he’s doing well. So easy to criticize him and compare him to Gerrard. He offers so much
Great read, perfect summary of Hendo. Not sure why Hendo gets the undeserved stick. Maybe it was replacing Stevie as captain, maybe it was ol Red Nose pathetic take on his running style etc etc
It was actually sickening the abuse Hendo received when picked for England in the summer, and even worse, the online rants from from so called Liverpool fans to being retained as captain. In a world of prima donna footballers, when the manager needs characters to stand up and be counted, Hendo will always put his hand up first. Isn’t that what captains should be first and foremost. Re his ability, Gareth is spot on reminding us about Hendo’s red card in the run in during the ‘season of Suarez’. Many fans point to that red card as a key reason we lost out. There is merit in that argument, as Hendo won the ball that Suarez needed to score goals with. No ball, no goals.
I said to my mates before the game, after seeing the ‘steel’ in Hendo’s eyes in the tunnel before the game, that this was going to be Hendo’s game.
He was a monster.
This is going to be a big season for Hendo, and Klopp knows it first. Good enough for me!
I’ve had this more than most on the private forum me and my mates have to the extent they now refer to him as ‘Rob’s boyfriend’. I absolutely love the man though. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see him excel this season and there’s no player I want to see excel as much as Henderson. You’ve made all the points I’d also make so no point reiterating them. I just dread the day we see Henderson lift the Premier League trophy because I’ll be a blubbering mess and a lot of those tears will be for Henderson himself. Personally, I think Henderson’s detractors come down to simplistic views among our fanbase. If the truth be told it was only his goal that got him so many plaudits on Friday. He was brilliant v Leicester imo but it went under the radar because he missed that sitter or missed the target at least. It took until April last year till I started hearing Leicester were top because of Kante. It’s a role idiots don’t notice. I always refer back to a description of Henderson I heard on a TAW podcast about 4 years ago. The recycler. Sums him up for me. A lot of people want Roy of the Rovers though. Simplistic. He does have those slide rule passes in his armour though too. The ones that if Coutinho made everyone would be wanking over. He needs 5 big games now to show he’s put his difficult times behind him and to give him the confidence to not only regain his best form but to surpass it. I’m confident we’ll see it and if we do it can only be brilliant for LFC so it’d be nice if everyone got behind him. My mates will say ‘I know why you wanna get behind him’ but it’s not like that. I’ve just got the utmost respect for him as a Liverpool player.
P.s Apologies Gareth for adding this here but 140 characters is just ridiculous and should be increased. Thanks a lot to whoever was kind enough to retweet my request yesterday. I’d guess it’s not something TAW wants to be doing and I appreciate that. I won’t ask again. I got let down last minute by the lad who was defo having it and my 200 Twitter followers are mainly made up of random sex girls wanting me to visit their site so I needed help. I know there are designated places to put that kind of thing but I don’t think they work very well from my experience. In contrast it worked 10 times over in less than a minute with your help. So, apologies and thanks. Much appreciated. Solidarity!
Happy to help, mate.
This is an article that desperately needed to be written by someone, and it has been extremely well written here. Nothing infuriates more more than the lack of support Henderson gets, for some reason he attracts the most ignorant remarks from some sectors of our fanbase while other less productive players go unchecked.
What many seem unable to grasp is that Henderson suffered three particularly difficult injuries last season and even though he attempted to play on through one of them it was inevitable his form would suffer. Why some continue to judge him on last season’s performances, given the context, is just baffling.
This season he’s returned fit but is now facing the challenge of learning a new position. Is it just me or is he becoming better in this new position with every game he plays? I expected nothing less, he’s proven again and again that he’ll apply himself to a task until he reaches the required standard. Klopp is clearly pleased with the progress he’s making so there is no reason why we shouldn’t be.
Frankly, I’m tired of having to stick up for Henderson. No, he’s not Steven Gerrard. No, he’s not from a sexy overseas country. Yes, he may run a bit funny. Yes, he passes the ball backwards as well as forwards. If you can’t get to grips with these simple facts then Henderson’s appeal will be lost on you. However, three Liverpool managers and two England managers have put their faith in Henderson and it’s unlikely they can all be wrong.
Love watching the gif of Hendo’s face in the tunnel ahead of the game. The face of someone who is about to play the best match of his career. An intensity that will be released in one of the most intensely intense celebrations of a goal you’ll ever see.
Beats even the Costa death stare gif, still an all-time favorite.
There’s always been superficial ‘negatives’ clouding people’s opinion of Hendo – Mackem accent, non-drinker, hard-trier so therefore limited, too honest and self-critical so therefore looks as shite as he appears when he’s knackered and screaming at the heavens after a miss.
He’s got no chutzpah.
He’s as ordinary as you get with a nerdy gait.
He is one hundred and ten procent decent, committed and our captain.
‘He even runs wrong, because Alex Ferguson says so.’
So much to be said for this. An astonishing amount of people, including some Liverpool fans, worship the word of Alex Ferguson, so it was inevitable that when he criticised Henderson’s running style plenty would lap it up.
Excellent article Gareth, needed to be said. I like the point about the former captains and our sometimes ‘selective’ memory. Really think Hendo’ can be a a great captain, it seems clear that he is respected by his teammates, and also a popular, and helpful guy.
Couldn’t agree more with everything in this article. I am sick of standing up for Henderson with so-called LFC fans. He is a superb character and a great role model for all at the club. His determination to be the best team player he can be should only be lauded. I was so pleased for him on Friday night but he was even better for me in the game against Leicester. As someone else said above, I cannot wait for the day he is holding a trophy aloft as LFC captain and I don’t think it will be too far off.
Jordan Henderson’s biggest problems are strangely not of his making:
– bought for £16m… from Sunderland … at a ‘finished article’ price at the time for a kid
– shunted and shifted in teams under experimentation that sometimes worked and sometimes “crashed”
– broke a bone in his heel that can repair under pain or destroy careers
– heir apparent to Stevie G as the midfield maestro and enforcer
– inherits Captaincy from (in my view) our greatest player of all-time, to be compared to forevermore.
Yet here he is- excelling again and an inspiration to the team – a role-model to kids and the Club.
Show me a better Midfielder or Captain in the PL at the moment…
God bless him.a whole hearted trier.If being prepared to run through a brick wall for the club was a tick box for being LFC captain then there’s a lot of us in for the job.
This is the kind of condescending rubbish about Henderson that fills the forums. Let’s get something straight: that goal against Courtois dispelled a common myth about Henderson – that he’s just a trier. I challenge anyone to score a goal against one of the Premier League’s best keepers from 30 yards without having genuine talent. He didn’t hit the ball straight either, he expertly lifted the ball over Courtois so that it would dip into the top corner, arguably one of the most difficult goals to score from distance. That wasn’t a goal of someone who merely tries, that was a goal of someone who can.
I expect the response to this assertion will be that Henderson hardly ever scores. True, but he frequently uses the same kind of ball control to allow others to score. He may not always provide the assist but he regularly provides the ball BEFORE the assist, be it a cutting diagonal or a lofted long ball dropped at the attacker’s feet. And this is the crux of Henderson’s problem – his contributions aren’t always immediately obvious. Just a quite look at his stats for this season, however, shows he’s working his backside off AND contributing to goals which is probably why Klopp is so happy with his efforts.
Oh that’s right- he is a trier too- and he does run his heart out- unlike a lot of overpaid, superego’d crap buys that flittered around the club then happily sitting on their arses collecting twice/thrice the annual national wage and more every week without giving a damn about the supporters or the team. Good points.
Yet still he’ll attract the begrudgers because he does? … because he doesn’t do?… because he’s not the same as?…. because…, because…., – oh because he’s Jordan Henderson of course! and isn’t it supposed to be cool to slate him??
Gotta blame someone for not winning every week after all.
Wow, don’t remember ever reading on these boards so much passion over an individual, unless it was vitriol being poured on John Henry with the tight purse strings, the failures of Ayre, our transfer committee, individual players: leiva, Sturridge, Milner, Moreno and others and, particularly, Hendo, and even Klopp on one or more occasion. So it’s heartening to to read the outpouring of feeling in support of our captain. I won’t restate any of the previously named excellent points from all the contributors – but take a tip of the hat, Gareth. So gratifying to read so much support and appreciation. Like most of you, I feel we are capable of scaling the heights again with herr Klopp and the team he is putting together. So exciting, so gratifying, so satisfying for us fans. Go for it, Hendo and you beautiful reds, we’re right with you.