On the 9th of June 2011, Liverpool Football Club signed Jordan Henderson – a young, up and coming midfielder who had been turning heads in a struggling Sunderland side. The Englishman joined the Reds at the expense of £18,000,000, little under half of what they had paid the previous season to sign Andy Carroll from Sunderland’s bitter, Tyneside rivals. Henderson had been awarded Sunderland’s ‘Young Player Of The Season’ for both the 2009/10 and 2010/11 season before The Reds pocketed the in-demand midfielder ahead of the 11-12 campaign.
He made his Liverpool debut against his former side, a game in which the young man received an uncertain reception from the traveling fans. Henderson has since gone on to make over 270 appearances for the Reds and was made club captain in 2015, we will delve into the effects of this so-called ‘promotion’ shortly. Approaching his mid-20’s Henderson was now drawing near his physical and footballing pinnacle as well as cementing his place in a lackluster England team. However, despite his seemingly smooth transition from Geordie hopeful to England golden boy, Henderson’s journey has not been without fault. He has come under immense scrutiny for his style of play from; writers, pundits, and the general football enthusiast. The most memorable of which being the spiteful comments of Sir Alex Ferguson which unnecessarily ridiculed the youngster. Pressure was beginning to build on the Englishman, some of which was emanating from the historically loyal members of the Kop who doubted the captaincy.
Ultimately, I believe the captaincy is what truly cost Henderson the respect he deserved in his early years at Liverpool. He faced an insurmountable task; to follow a club colossus and inherit this legends role as captain. Steven Gerrard possessed not only a phenomenal level of skill and astonishing technique but an aura of confidence and leadership seemed to ooze from him on the pitch. He had a sense of local pride and passion which resonated with the 54,000 in the stands who had grown up on the very streets as this local hero. How did a young 25-year-old Jordan Henderson approach this seemingly impossible feat? In a way which Jordan Henderson would, calm, collected and quietly. This is in many ways is reflective of his footballing style- ‘the calm in the chaos’. For Henderson, Priority #1 is to retain possession. An ability that our, greedy, spoilt footballing society is rele=uctant to admire or even appreciate.
But from a tactical standpoint; this style of player is vital for Jurgen Klopp’s Rock’n’Roll system- ‘the calm in the chaos’. Henderson’s slow and steady style of play juxtaposes Klopp’s relentless brand of football and this is integral to its success. Henderson, whose performances have ‘coincidentally’ peaked under Klopp, is not fearful of the inevitable groans he will receive for slowing the play as he understands the importance of this for his team. He shows a self-confidence in his ability and loyalty in his role which allows his team to reset in scenarios which they otherwise wouldn’t due to the team’s frightening pace of play. Without Henderson, Liverpool’s front 6 would lack any form of composure in attacking situations; Firmino shows short to offload forwards; Mane & Salah look to get in behind their men using their pace; Milner & Wijnaldum both look to surpass the #9, and Oxlade-Chamberlain thrives in quick aggressive drives. Although this deeply embedded drive to attack creates a phenomenally entertaining and open game, it does not win football matches. This level of attacking ignorance leaves the defence exposed and open to the counter, which in an open game, can be costly. So although the Kop and front 3 may not be grateful for Hendo’s tentative and sometimes tedious approach, I’m sure that the likes of VVD and Dejan Lovren certainly are.
In recent months, Henderson has shown a newly found ruggedness – iconic of a Liverpool skipper. This was shown in his immense performance against Manchester City in the opening leg of their champions league tie. He showed grit and determination which has been absent at Anfield in recent seasons, he carried a level of swagger and defensive confidence as if to say ‘Try Me’. Liverpool’s electric performance both on and off the pitch stole the headlines that night and rightfully so, however it should not be forgotten that the unpolished duo of James Milner and Jordan Henderson silenced the most clinical and in form midfielders in the world and they did so with minimal credit. And that is an undertone of Henderson’s unsung importance and ability. The likes of Sergio Busquets are exalted for their performances in the ‘Henderson Role’. The difference is that the Englishman’s reputation has been hindered by the emphasis put on his conservative style of play by the electrifying pace surrounding him on the pitch.
I appeal to any football fan out there to learn to appreciate balance rather than craving attacking overload. Understand that his control of tempo is vital to Liverpool’s success, and ultimately that will be what defines Henderson’s career – especially as captain of Liverpool Football Club. His dictation of the pace of a game allows his defence to get in shape and prepare to defend as well as allowing his attackers the freedom and time to attack. This is not a declaration of the second-coming of Paul Gascoigne just the credit for a player that seems to be severely lacking anywhere outside of Anfield Road.
What do you make of these thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!