WHAT are the qualities that make somebody the ideal candidate to captain a football team?
Leadership is the first that springs to mind, but what’s the best way to demonstrate leadership on a football pitch? Is it being vocal, barking orders at teammates, letting them know where they went wrong if necessary and getting in the referee’s ear all game? Or is it to lead by example, having the ability to drag the team through games, standing out on the big occasions and just generally running the show?
Since the turn of the century Liverpool have had three captains — four if you include Robbie Fowler’s share of the armband in 2001. Sami Hyypia was the first of those. The stalwart at the centre of Gerard Houllier’s defence who lead the team vocally and by example. The Big Finn’s performances, alongside the underrated Stephane Henchoz, set the foundation that allowed The Reds to attack and led them to an impressive triple trophy haul.
Then there was captain fantastic Steven Gerrard. The Huyton-born midfielder possessed a lot of those leadership qualities listed above, and the club will be hoping he still does in his role as Under-18s manager. On the pitch, it is likely that Gerrard’s shoes will be left unfilled for the foreseeable future, such was his influence at the club.
And that is where the problem lies.
It’s important to caveat this by saying that, at 27 years of age, Gerrard was miles ahead of Jordan Henderson currently is in terms of ability and the latter will never reach the heights that the former did. Gerrard was head and shoulders above the majority of his teammates throughout his senior years at Anfield — with the exception of Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez, whose cause he actively aided with his role in those sides.
Henderson is by no means the best player in Jürgen Klopp’s side. It’s almost impossible for him to be all things to all men in the same way that his predecessor was. That no doubt hinders his cause as Liverpool captain.
There’s no back catalogue of standout moments to draw on, save for screamers against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season and against Manchester City at Anfield in 2015. It does him no favours that the mere mention of Gerrard brings so many moments flooding back. Henderson has failed to hit double figures for goals in each of his six (and a bit) seasons on Merseyside. Seven is his best return in 2014-15 — incidentally, the season his predecessor was being phased out.
So what qualities does he possess? How is it that he’s come to wear the armband?
Hyypia wasn’t the best player in the Liverpool sides he captained but he made his position work to his advantage by mastering the defence and, as mentioned before, allowing the attacking players to get on with their jobs at the other end of the field. He also seemed to get what the club was about and was loved by supporters. His unwavering commitment to the cause was central to his appeal.
Henderson has that too and on his best day he sets the pace for Liverpool’s attacks as a metronomic midfielder. Despite not being the best player on the pitch he can dictate the shift from defence to attack and ensure that the best players can play their game. In other words, he builds the foundation that allows the attacking players to get on with their jobs at the other end of the field — though Klopp’s system does demand that most players do a bit of both.
The problem is when he’s off form the game tends to pass him by, sometimes to the detriment of the team as a whole. He doesn’t seem to have the ability to drag the team through games which can sometimes mean that, even when he’s on his game, it may not show in the overall performance or in the result — as with Spartak Moscow on Tuesday. Then, he tees up chances, provides opportunities on a plate, but because he doesn’t take the game by the scruff of the neck like Gerrard would, he is questioned.
Henderson’s recent turnaround in form was needed after an indifferent start to the season.
But it’s never for the want of trying. Many of the supporters who are admirers of his will credit his work rate but those who aren’t in favour may use the difference in ability between him and Gerrard as a stick to beat him with. It’s hard to justify one without acknowledging the other, though he does deserve more credit for his attitude as Liverpool captain — that is an area in which he most definitely leads by example, if not consistently enough in his performance on the pitch.
Hyypia was appointed club captain just one season after signing from Willem II for £2.5million, and he displayed throughout his time that he “got” the club. Gerrard had the advantage of being born on Merseyside so “getting” the club and understanding supporter expectations was a part of his everyday life growing up. But the latter wasn’t always the vocal leader he grew to be. In fact, 10 years ago some supporters questioned whether he was captain material as he didn’t talk enough.
Henderson showed in his interview with The Anfield Wrap over the summer that he “gets” the club and understands supporter expectation. It may not be enough in its own right to make him the ideal captain but it’s an important quality for your captain to possess if you’re a supporter.
One area the 27-year-old could improve on consistently, which wouldn’t take any significant jump in terms of ability, is being more vocal on the pitch. Against Leicester City on Saturday evening he was at his best. Barking orders to teammates and getting in the ref’s ear all game. He even whispered something to Jamie Vardy before his unsuccessful penalty.
Contrast that to the Manchester City game where he was on the sideline drinking water as one of Liverpool’s most important players was being shown a red card — a moment which effectively put the result beyond doubt. Henderson could and should have been doing more to reason with the ref and perhaps his Leicester antics were a sign that he’s learnt from that particular incident.
This article displays part of the problem when assessing Henderson as captain. It’s impossible to do so without comparing him to those who wore the armband before. But his qualities must be judged on their own merits too.
Henderson will never be like Gerrard as captain of Liverpool. He’ll never even be like Hyypia.
But maybe we should let just him be Jordan Henderson and appreciate the qualities he does possess.
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Out of all of the debates surrounding Liverpool this is the one that gets me fuming the most. The article, quite rightly, highlights that comparing Henderson with those who wore the armband before him is almost an impossible task due to reasons beyond Henderson’s control. Gerrard was a once in a generation Liverpool player from Liverpool and no-one currently playing will ever fill that criteria.
However, consider this: Henderson was captain of the England under U21’s, Brendan Rodgers made him captain of Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp kept him as captain of Liverpool, Roy Hodgson made him captain of the senior England side, as did Gareth Southgate. Ultimately, the fans have no say on who is captain, which is good because we don’t see the other half of a captain’s job – that which goes on behind the scenes, but there is no doubt managers see something in Henderson that some of the fans don’t, otherwise he wouldn’t be continually made captain. Do his critics have the wealth of footballing experience of the aforementioned managers? No, which is why I would rather listen to those who know what they’re talking about, and backing our club captain, rather than join in with the naysayers.
Good article Ben and I agree with most of it. I’ll go further though and question some assertions you make such as- Hendo drinking water as the sending off: he was using water as a clever chance to talk the situation through with Klopp. Fighting with a Ref would’ve gotten him a yellow or even red at that time as the Ref made a big call he wasn’t going to change his mind on. Plus he needed to know the Manager’s game plan with 10- which incidentally we can all agree as actually poor (at least what to do if Mane in particular is sent off-possibly not often considered).
You say he won’t be as good as Gerrard- everyone, including Messi, knows nobody will be as good as Stevie was. But Sami- yes, he will be and is as good a player as Sami was but in a different role. The guy’s just turned 27, younger than Sami was taking the role, and took over from our very own ‘Roy of the Istanbul FA ’06 Cup and countless classics goals Rovers’ Stevie. NOBODY could/would ever replace Stevie and the poor bastard was the immediate successor. Plus Stevie had his Jamie Rottweiler – barking away to keep all shapes in order. Who’s Hendo got..,? the choirboys who nearly apologise for tackiling.
Well done on taking this subject back up to cover because too many of our fans are thrashing a great Captain, up there and above most other current team Captains. Kompany ( not playing) is perhaps the only one current Captain that is as good/better an example, leader, Ambassador and friend of the squad / manager in the PL as Hendo is. Can and Gini have been getting away with murder recently, while fully fit, but not making the tackles, passes and controls he is showing while recovering from another lengthy lay off till summer. It takes game time to recover form and he’s doing that while expected to howl at others not up to expected par and he not at his own high standard he set himself.
To me, there’ll never be another Stevie G, but then there wasn’t one for years ago right back to a slightly lesser one – Souness perhaps. Fans must get real and support Henderson as Captain- it effects our club and team on the pitch and he’s more than worth our respect and support. Keep it going Jordan.
Sorry – Josh, not Ben :) well done, Peter
Best LFC sides have had a number of people all across the field who could comfortably wear the armband, most notably in recent times the 2001 side
I’d say character-wise, he is rather a quiet and shy guy. Having said that, He grows into his role, but naturally (if they were more consistent players), I could only see Can and Lovren as captain by attitude. Basically, the person is still missing who combines both. Lallana perhaps the most likely candidate who ticks the boxes ability and character.
And the irony of those who say he can’t hold a candle to his predecessor is that nobody has been more vocal in their support for Henderson as being the man to take the armband than Gerrard. But like you say, 27 now so coming to his peak and has to deliver or someone else will need to have a go. Needs this season to a) stay injury free – still a bit mysterious if there is an ongoing problem and b) consistently put in the sort of dominating performance we saw last week at Leicester.
Yet another article trying to praise Henderson. If he were that good, you wouldn’t constantly need to write one- his performances would be enough. The fact is that he his bang average and wouldn’t get into any of top six teams. Squad player at best… goes into hiding at worst and never holds onto the ball when under pressure. Poor player
You say you shouldn’t compare Hendo to Gerrard then spend the entire article doing just that! How is this going to help him or the team?? It just creates a bandwagon for people to jump on and give him more grief. You can tell you’ve only experienced the Gerrard era at Liverpool, a cruel and pointless article. I expected more from the Anfield Wrap!
Henderson is always going to get shit because most of us have been spoilt in terms of quality central midfielders. That Xabi-Masch-Stevie trio we had will ruin a few central midfielders careers over the next few years. Hendo can’t live up to them but few can. We expect Liverpool captains to be a benchmark of somekind but Hendo is missing the mark set by those three.
If he shows the fight and desire hes shown in the last two games consistently he’ll win people over.
After yet another game, this article only highlights my point before about Henderson being average and why…
“Henderson will never be like Gerrard as captain of Liverpool. He’ll never even be like Hyypia.”
That much is right, though you have gone and compared Henderson again in the rest of your article.
“But maybe we should let just him be Jordan Henderson and appreciate the qualities he does possess.”
Qualities like what we saw today of sideways and back passes when we’re on the attack? Going missing and leaving it to Coutinho for a worldie to bail us out?
Henderson in some people’s fantasy world might be a great captain or whatever.
Reality is what we see on the pitch and so Henderson continues to demonstrate that he is an average squad players, who huffs and puffs, and shows intent, but unfortunately no grit, steel, or skill for that matter as the captain/leader to save the team from abject performances like today.