I’VE often pondered what constitutes a captain’s performance in football.
There are some which instantly spring to mind, Steven Gerrard in the 2006 FA Cup final, Roy Keane away to Juventus in 1999 and Tony Adams against Everton on the final day of 1997-98.
All of them are a joyous culmination of desire, responsibility and leadership, in their own right. The sheer trench dragging of Gerrard, the stand and be counted of Keane, and the sense of resolve in Adams.
In the modern game the lines are somewhat blurred in comparison. A bygone era where Keane and Patrick Vieira would engage in a pre-match tunnel confrontation which led to phrases like “we’ll see out there,” being uttered by Keane feels lost in the corporate procession and formalities of Premier League football.
Naming the current captains of the established top six clubs is no given, either. Characters such as Gerrard or John Terry in recent years have been replaced with the likes of Antonio Valencia and Laurent Koscielny.
This throws up many questions; are these types characters no longer encouraged? What exactly is leading in today’s game and, most importantly in Liverpool’s case, what do we want from a captain of our clubs?
With all of the increasing social-media vitriol aimed at Jordan Henderson, one line in particular is an ever present in the plethora of sticks used to beat him: “He’s not good enough to captain the club”.
What this actually means remains unclear. Are fans saying he is not good enough technically as a footballer?
If so, then there is an argument we still hold captains up to the often impossible standards set and achieved by Gerrard, a player who was able to regularly use a now overlooked phenomenal footballing ability to single handedly rescue his team from the depths of despair.
If not based on technical ability alone, perhaps the presumption is that Henderson is then not a good enough leader. On the field, he can be guilty of being inside his own head too much, his own biggest critic. That, therefore, is an understandable concern that the midfielder does not emulate composure at a time of need.
The question persists, what type of leader do Liverpool want?
If we are saying the experience of James Milner or the presence of Virgil van Dijk is what is desired to bring out the best of Liverpool on the pitch then we have to consider all factors.
Would seeing Milner or van Dijk with an armband on against Paris Saint-Germain this week have contributed to a different result in Liverpool’s favour? Would the game of either of them or the team as a whole be improved as a result?
Milner is a fantastic professional who leads in the way he conducts himself. He has lived his footballing life in the model every player should. He was wily and knowledgeable at the age of 21. His desire for success and self improvement is to be respected by everyone at the club.
In the case of van Dijk, the clamour for his captaincy increases daily. An image of him scoring last-minute goals and consoling grieving referees while captaining the Dutch national team has led to the assumption that is what Liverpool are currently missing — that father figure on the pitch whose actions tell us it will be alright.
Yet the imperious centre back has acted in this manner since he came through the door at Liverpool. His personality has not altered due to the lack of a piece of fabric around his arm; he has persevered in gaining respect and acting in a way which leads others to look up to him for guidance and reassurance.
In all of the blurred lines around football, a dressing room remains an unforgiving and brutally honest place. There is not one single totem that is looked at in times of mental deliberation. The right dressing room will have pockets of truth, hope and inspiration pitted around it at any given time.
From those who shout and ball, the types of voices who need to be heard for their own sanity as well as others, to the more astute and comforting characters, footballers will seek serenity in different ways.
In line with this is the often forgotten aspect of professional footballers being in a workplace with each other every week, all of them varying in personality, belief and attitude.
The concept that an equal in a workplace is charged every day with addressing the collective and individual wellbeing of the whole group sounds alien in comparison to our own respected existence.
Captains, therefore, cannot be judged on what they do on the pitch alone; Vincent Kompany’s injury record in recent years is evidence of that. They must be accountable for general positivity and collective ambition while simultaneously ensuring their own development is met.
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What is clear is that this Liverpool team are driven, collectively and individually. You feel there isn’t one player who would put personal ambition or ego before the collective will of the team, the decision around allowing the sale of Philippe Coutinho last January points to that very factor.
If a problem was present and an area of improvement around captaincy was identified, Jürgen Klopp would address it, and I would be confident that someone like Henderson would fully reciprocate and put the club first.
Captains are often eulogised at club’s because they symbolise a time and place better than most. The image of a skipper lifting a trophy above his head or pumping his chest in the heat of battle often act as a form of nostalgia to revel in and pine for.
Rightly or wrongly, the role of a captain has changed in recent years, and with it has undoubtedly come a more relaxed approach in comparison to the Roy Of The Rovers-type role Gerrard and some before him played at our own club.
The value of a captain will continue to be discussed until a trophy can be brought back to Anfield. Even that might not be enough for many who see the role as an underlying and unresolved issue in the quest for success.
Leading comes in many forms, and Liverpool currently needs all of them to be as effective in their own right if success in this ever-demanding season is to be achieved.
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Good article. I am a Henderson supporter, but I do think serious consideration should be given to making Van Dijk capatin at the end of the season. 1. He is guaranteed to start nearly all games, if fit – something Henderson isn’t. 2. He has the aura of a winner and a leader, like Klopp, which our club has always bought into. Having those special figures represents something for us, and Henderson just isn’t one of those figures who galvanises the support.
“The question persists, what type of leader do Liverpool want?”
A leader that has both innate and learned skills.
A leader who has these skills and traits come to forefront when in the moment of biggest crisis or pressure to lead whatever type of team through or out of it, irrespective of what the manager wants or the opposition expects when they’re on top.
Unfortunately Jordan Henderson continues to give me more an impression of a yes-man than a respected and formidable leader in the modern era of football.
In Jordan Henderson’s defense, I think his opportunity was lost when he stopped developing his role as an attacking mid. 2014/15 he was doing very well in that position.
Maybe he would have scored more than the 21/22 goals he has so far.
This might have had a knock-on effect to help improve his game, skills, and confidence on/off the ball, with the players, etc, and dare I say even earn him a reputation closer to (perhaps not nearly enough to) Gerrard, Rush or Souness.
Instead by not fighting for his place as an attacking-mid ( I think of Frank Lampard type of player ), Henderson may have been forced to play in a position that draws out all his skills as a player, but wastes it and finally shows how limited he can be or is in that position.
Maybe Henderson was not convinced of his role and may have wanted to try something new or maybe had to to keep his job.
Maybe he was too scared to say fuck this and go to a club that would allow him to develop into the player that I believe he was. There are many players who went on to other clubs and developed into top players elsewhere because they knew what they wanted and weren’t afraid to take on the risk.
Klopp is definitely great at managing players overall, but he is not perfect. I don’t think he always knows what’s best for his players, and sometimes I feel he needs to trust more of his players to take risks.
Putting square pegs into round holes is not taking risks as we saw against PSG of late. Errors in manager’s judgement or direction can lead to a player’s decline as well especially if done repeatedly or often enough.
As for leaders, sometimes leaders come into their own like Gerrard, when he was kid.
The opportunity is always there, but it is up to the player to have the balls to take it on when needed to.
Henderson never has in the big games where we want or rather need to see this happen.
Your article made me look up a list of past LFC captains to refresh my memory, since I started watching and supporting the club.
Phil Thompson 1979-1981
Graeme Souness 1982-1984
Phil Neal 1984-1985
Alan Hansen 1985-1988
Ronnie Whelan 1988-1989
Alan Hansen 1989-1990
Ronnie Whelan / Glenn Hysén 1990-1991
Mark Wright 1991-1993
Ian Rush 1993-1996
John Barnes 1996-1997
Paul Ince 1997-1999
Jamie Redknapp 1999-2002
Sami Hyypia / Robbie Fowler 2000-2001
Sami Hyypia 2002-2003
Steven Gerrard 2003-2015
I can’t say that all of them were outstanding leaders especially between 1995-2000 when LFC went without anything much to write home about.
“he (VVD) has persevered in gaining respect and acting in a way which leads others to look up to him for guidance and reassurance.”
Since 2014/15 Henderson, at least for me, has regressed rather than thrive like David Silva or Kevin DeBruyne (remember how KDB treated at Chelsea and how he resurrected himself via Wolfsburg and then City).
While VVD might have more physical presence than Henderson, VVD has shown he can perform as well in his role as captain for his national team.
He has earned Klopp’s and his teammates respect I think. In the same vein that Milner has also done, and if it wasn’t for Milner’s age, I think he would have done even more as I often saw him do with City.
VVD also comes with a heavy price tag and that adds to the impression of VVD as a suitable captain.
Vincent Kompany has similar qualities to VVD, and has helped win the coveted EPL title two in a row scoring 4 or 5 goals during the two seasons.
Besides Kompany, Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho, Silva and KDB all wear the armbands when needed. Not sure about Fernandinho, but the others have led their teams to victory including scoring in big games.
Imagine a control freak like Pep Guardiola, yet the above players went above and beyond at times.
“Rightly or wrongly, the role of a captain has changed in recent years, and with it has undoubtedly come a more relaxed approach in comparison to the Roy Of The Rovers-type role Gerrard and some before him played at our own club.”
Yes it has changed, so what? It’s still a football game for 90 odd minutes during the “most important games” where winning is everything.
Don’t get this, I suggest reading about what Cristiano Ronaldo’s attitude when he plays a game, since he was a kid. I don’t like Ronaldo, but I appreciate his attitude and mentality to win every game even if he’s shit in some of the games he played.
Do you honestly believe that Klopp or the supporters would be pissed off if Jordan Henderson had taken any of the finals against, City, Seville or Madrid (or any important matches like the last one against PSG) and won it in a manner that was unorthodox like Gerrard or any of the list of captains did in the past?
Why do we remember Gerrard for 2005?
It’s not just about lifting a trophy, it’s the manner in which that trophy was won.
Apart from the goal against Chelsea, I can’t recall anything significant that Jordan Henderson has done to warrant my outright support of him being LFC’s captain, especially in the big games.
Still I yearn (a fool’s hope) for LFC to lift the EPL title, and if anything the photo or video of Jordan Henderson lifting that trophy would make me very happy for him.
It would be nice if Hendo and Co could do what one of our other midfield players is doing most weeks for another English Club
Hendo should look to Harry Wilson for a bit of inspiration and I keep hearing that Herbie Kane is also doing well at Doncaster. tow youngsters who may have a bright future, one thing is for certain they both know where the goal is.
I know this is about being a captain and for me it is also about leading on the pitch with what you do. I have yet to see much from hendo this season that is inspirational.
Talk in the week is how can PSG players look themselves in the face or more importantly their families with that performance of theatrics… I’d be more inclined to say the same about us and our performance and in Henderson we had a player who was poor against Watford and needed to show something more against PSG. He ended up more a spectator with the best seat in the house.
Time to give him a break. I’d give the captaincy to VvD and let Hendo concentrate on his own game without all the need to also be a leader both on and off the pitch. Better players down the years at Anfield have had the captaincy taken from them and gone on to reignite their game and have long successful careers afterwards.
Shout and ball?
Shout and bawl?
Its not just about what we see on the pitch.
Its about what we don’t see – in the dressing rooms, on the coach or plane.
It’s about the players attitude on the training ground and to life in general.