FOOTBALL fans are rarely in tandem.
From debating who’s the better footballer between Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi to analysing the best player ever to play in the Premier League or even just divulging your annoyance at the latest team selection.
In the Liverpool-supporting world, no player could better represent football’s divisive nature than Jordan Henderson.
To some, he’s an underappreciated workhorse belittled by perennial comparisons to former greats; to others, he’s an overrated and undeserving club captain lacking the quality required at a club of this stature.
Jordan Henderson took on the impossible task of trying to follow up the one-in-a-million player in Steven Gerrard, and the erroneous comparisons in the years since have left him derided for what he isn’t rather than applauded for what he is.
He is the nitty gritty player, one of balance and solidity, focus and flair. As a leading voice in the dressing room, it’s no coincidence that he’s earned the respect of his teammates for club and country. And yet, he’s so much more. The last two games have proven that in abundance.
It’s a testament to the “monstrous mentality” Klopp has instilled that there were no fears of a potentially damaging draw at St Mary’s. At 1-1 after 79 minutes and the players weren’t wandering round thinking “this is it”.
Heads remained levelled; the old guard came on, and the game turned on its head.
It was Henderson all over.
His exuberance was like a contagion; frantically barking orders at his colleagues. First, he sprang a seamless counter attack into life with a weighted header into the path of Mo Salah, before sealing the game with a lambasting run from deep.
This was shades of 2013-14 Henderson, free from the defensive shackles and able to maraud into the box with real freneticism.
It was his first goal since Leicester back in September 2017 to ensure The Reds went back to top spot, and you could see what it meant to him.
Celebrating like a man possessed, the ear-cupped celebration was a statement to his haters. This was his aggression, his passion, his sheer unbridled joy bursting out in the face of his critics.
This was for those who suggest he doesn’t have the quality needed, nor the leadership to push the team to their first league title in 29 years.
Porto may not have produced similarly dramatic cupped-ear celebrations or explosive outbursts, but it was another illustration of Henderson’s importance to the side.
Again, entrusted with the freedom to operate in a more advanced role, his running and aggression added a fire in the belly, providing support from deep that the front three have been crying out for since Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury last year.
This was Henderson proving his value in a defiant manner once more.
Though Liverpool’s second goal was scored by Roberto Firmino and assisted by Trent Alexander-Arnold, it was all about the work Henderson had done. An intricate, perfectly weighted ball to unlock Porto’s defence and nullify both Alex Telles and Eder Militao.
Wherever, whenever, Henderson was there, popping the ball off to his teammates and angling for a swift return.
He was the orchestrator, the conductor, the man setting the tone.
Critics will continue to fixate on what he isn’t, what he could never be, but recent performances serve as a stark reminder of his own qualities.
Is he the club’s best player? No. Would he win a popularity contest? Almost certainly not. Yet there are no qualms from Klopp about Henderson’s influence.
Henderson has proved he’s a powerful presence with potent energy, and he now appears to be relishing the challenge presented by those who doubt he can deliver.
And he may yet become the first Liverpool captain to lift the Premier League.
For more reaction to The Reds’ Champions League quarter-final first leg win over Porto, SUBSCRIBE to TAW Player…
“A European Cup quarter final and Liverpool were in absolute cruise control.
“I’ll take 2-0 all day.” ✊
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) April 9, 2019