Here’s to you, Jordan Henderson: Liverpool’s captain is now Anfield’s beating heart

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Jordan Henderson‘s journey to wholesale recognition at Liverpool has been longer than almost every other player, but he is now undeniably crucial.

In late 2013 the first murmurings of Jordan Henderson appreciation started to do the rounds.

To the tune of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs Robinson’ the Kop began to bellow, telling the up-and-coming Henderson of how the then-manager Brendan Rodgers loved him more than he could know.

It was apt, and affectionate. A difficult few years had seen the Wearside lad left in the career equivalent of no-man’s land, reduced to tears on one occasion in the Melwood car park after being informed the club had given a green light to sell him to Fulham as part of a deal to acquire the services of Clint Dempsey.

After battling to retain his Liverpool career and playing through the pain of his father’s ongoing illness, Henderson forged himself in the flames of adversity.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 15, 2013: Liverpool's Jordan Henderson celebrates scoring the second goal against Tottenham Hotspur during the Premiership match at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It used to prang when certain pundits and football fans alike failed to recognise Henderson’s niche ability and ever-growing skillset, now it’s easier to simply feel sorry for them.

To not understand Henderson’s role, talent and endless contribution is to not understand football at all.

It is no coincidence that the last time Liverpool came agonisingly close to the Premier League, under Rodgers during the 2013/14 campaign, that Henderson came to the fore and really stamped his mark of value on the starting XI.

To this day Rodgers and fellow players speak of Henderson’s red card against Man City and subsequent suspension as one of the overarching factors behind the late demise on Merseyside.

Henderson had built up and incubated the fury of being told his Liverpool future was nonexistent, and used this to hone himself into one of the most versatile and mechanically consistent midfielders of the last Premier League decade.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 20, 2015: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard hands the armband to Jordan Henderson as he is substituted against Chelsea during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The 29-year-old has emerged from arguably one of the longest shadows in English football. As much as Henderson will never be Steven Gerrard, it needs to be appreciated and understood that no player in the many Premier League years to follow will be another Gerrard.

It’s time to realise that Henderson, England’s 2019 Player of the Year, is set to go down as one of the all-time Premier League greats.

It won’t sit well with many. What is more surprising is that it still won’t agree entirely with the Liverpool fan base.

It’s difficult to think of a player in similar circumstances from years gone by who has constantly and consistently given their all yet failed to achieve universal praise. To Henderson, thankfully, this no longer matters.

In Liverpool’s emphatic late victory against Wolves, the skipper was leading from the front.

After rising to head home Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s corner and celebrating with a hearty scream from the diaphragm, it was back to work for the industrious midfielder.

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 23, 2020: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson celebrates scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Henderson made more ball recoveries than any other Liverpool player bar Andy Robertson under the lights at Molineux, as he plugged gaps in midfield and generally did what he always does—allow others to play, completely selflessly.

A total of 64 of Henderson’s 80 passes were successful, as the No. 14 not only tirelessly quelled danger, but also created two key chances which had direct bearing on Liverpool’s overall xG statistics.

Good captains offer both stability and consistency. Henderson followed up his heroics with a showpiece performance in Saturday’s blitz of Southampton. The skipper is, quite simply, in the form of his life.

Another game, another goal, another assist. Jurgen Klopp was left with a toothy grin and a glint in his eye on the touchline as his midfield general did the business on command.

It’s safe to say captain and manager have a telepathic understanding.

Liverpool's Jordan Henderson (right) celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. (Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images)

Henderson is shooting more this season, as well as running farther and passing more. Accuracy percentage has been slightly sacrificed due to the reinvention in the No. 6 role, deputising for the injured Fabinho seamlessly.

The accusations of Henderson ‘only passing sideways’ have long since subsided. Indeed, his spraying balls over the top are now that much of a common occurrence they are lesser noted upon.

Figures show Henderson is averaging three key tackles per Premier League game. Such stats seem paltry in the grand scheme of things, but the number-crunchers will agree unanimously they are vital.

Henderson’s cohesion, combined with personality traits which make him an authoritarian and selfless leader, mean Klopp’s side are setting up with an advantage even before a ball is kicked.

For as much as Robertson and Alexander-Arnold have earned status as two of the finest attacking full-backs over the last 18 months, both defenders point back to their captain as the man who provides a base reassured tranquility.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 11, 2020: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson (L) celebrates with Andy Robertson after the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Liverpool won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“Sometimes over the years Hendo’s not got the credit that he deserves,” Robertson told the club’s official site in the aftermath of the recent Molineux heroics.

“But when you play with him, you train with him and see the way he acts off the field, it’s an absolute pleasure [for him] to be my captain and everyone’s captain.

“For us, he’s now getting the credit that he deserves and that’s what it’s all about for us because he’s getting the recognition that his performances deserve.”

Ever since getting shown that potential Craven Cottage future, by the banks of the river Thames, Henderson has never looked back.

The ultimate professional, first in at training and the last out most days, renowned for regulating every square inch of his diet and completely avoiding alcohol.

Liverpool’s leader is well on course to be handed the ultimate individual accolade in picking up the PFA Player of the Year award.

Many will scrutinise it if he doesn’t, yet many will also scrutinise it if he does. For Henderson, none of this will matter.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 11, 2020: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson celebrates after the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Liverpool won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

That zen-like focus and spartan determination are channeled only on one thing: a very specific piece of silverware which could be held aloft at Anfield on May 9 and paraded through the Merseyside skies shortly after.

So long as the feet of the tireless midfielder are tip-tapping on a podium come the end of the season, everything else to England’s most underrated footballer is simply white noise.

Here’s to you, Jordan Henderson, may you continue to lead this club back to the promised land.

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