Six years ago today, we signed a fresh faced, 20 year old Jordan Henderson signed for Liverpool FC as a talented, yet raw midfielder from Sunderland.
To call the following 2 years ‘difficult’ would be an understatement. From adjusting to a massive club like Liverpool, to trying to find his ideal position of winger, or central attacking midfielder, or defensive mid, confusion and debate followed Henderson wherever he went.
In my opinion, the turning point came in December 2013 where Liverpool faced Spurs. The Reds had already lost a few games that first half-season, but were still near the top of the table. Suarez had finished his ban and there was something in the air signalling that Liverpool were on the cusp of something special.
Jordan Henderson turned in a brilliant performance, smashing Tottenham 0-5 at White Hart Lane.
The game is most remembered however for 2 things, 1) Suarez scoring twice and 2) “Oh fuck off, even Flanagan scored” – being the famous tweet from a disgruntled Spurs fan.
What the rest of us saw, however, was the emergence of who would be our future captain. This image below somewhat personifies to me Henderson holding up his fist in defiance of his critics over recent years. It was his declaration of “I deserve to be here”.
With Steven Gerrard leaving the club at the end of the 14/15 season, the club announced on July 2015 that Jordan Henderson would be appointed the new club captain.
Despite being critical in one of our most exciting season to date in 13/14, he was still met with criticism over his ability to lead our club.
I was privileged to witness the new captain in the flesh during the LFC Tour of Queensland and South Australia in 2015, and what I saw was a man who was a born leader. The players all have huge respect for him. He was front and centre of everything from training, to media events, to public events… he is the man. He didn’t shy away from any engagement, question, or ask of the club from a commercial perspective.
When it came to game-time, he was leading out the players to warm up, rallying them for a ‘meaningless’ pre-season game on the other side of the world and commanding the club from the front.
The 15/16 season started fairly terribly to say the last, with Rodgers surviving only 8 games before being replaced by Klopp. The spotlight was once again on Henderson. Would Klopp retain him? He had his critics with some saying that Klopp would certainly see him surplus to requirements and take the captaincy off him at the minimum.
To the surprise of some, Klopp came out in equal defiance and stated that Jordan is the club captain and would stay as such. For the following games, Klopp kept his word and stuck by Henderson, making him an integral part of the play, albeit in a more reserved position on the pitch.
For years, Jordan’s primary asset was seen as his ability to run all game, harass the opposition, win the ball back and launch attacks. Klopp had different plans. He wanted to use Henderson’s game intelligence and turn him into a defensive midfielder/quarter-back to run games.
Henderson’s first season was met with mixed results and form, but overall, he kept a solid fan base that valued what he brought to the squad.
The 16/17 year came about, and after a few heel injuries and mixed form, Henderson declared that this was the season where he would need to ‘prove himself again’ to the fans, and he certainly did that.
By Christmas 2016, Liverpool had the deadliest attack in the land, much due to the passing range and vision of Jordan Henderson, keeping the ball moving and feeding the likes of Lallana, Mane, Firmino and Coutinho. Henderson’s passing stats were in Europe’s elite, completing the 4th most passes of any playing in their continent.
In contrast to this, Henderson’s main club ‘rival’ for his position, Emre Can, was badly off form. This only further led to fans being in awe of the captain’s rise in stature.
Then disaster struck.
In February 2017, after a torrid month of average results for the club, Henderson succumbed to another foot/heel injury, which at the time seemed only minor in nature. Emre Can was forced (despite also having his own calf injuries) to cover for Henderson and slowly grew into that role.
By April, Klopp was stating that Henderson was due for a return, only for his absence to be widely reported by journalists. What was going on? Some, including myself, were worried that Sir Alex Ferguson’s original concerned about Henderson’s running style were coming to fruition.
Klopp stated in late April that Henderson “look healthy, but can’t play football”, only to add to the speculation around his future.
So where does that leave the Liverpool captain? What could have been of this season if he was healthy throughout? With an out-of-form/Injured Emre Can in our squad and only Lucas as additional cover, our 4th place finish this season could have been seriously in doubt if Henderson wasn’t available for the first half of the season.
We are now in the quandary of Emre Can yet to sign a contract extension, and no definitive news that Henderson’s heel injury is permanently fixed. Where does that leave our club? Do we actively search for a full-time defensive midfielder, giving them some level of assurances that they’ll play the majority of the season even if Henderson/Can are fit, or do we stick with our current team members?
Let me know your thoughts, what should the club do? Buy another player as a full-time defensive mid, or feel that Emre/Jordan with Lucas as backup is enough?
Written by Nish Veer (@PodcastingCouch)