Jordan Henderson may not be back on the pitch before the end of the season, but he has made his leadership felt once again in a potentially fatal month for Liverpool.
It has not been a month to savour for Liverpool Football Club.
After suffering the miserable blow of a Champions League knockout at the hands of Real Madrid, the club’s owners threatened a permanent exit with the formation of the Super League.
An immoral grab at the wealth only available to football’s top percentile, Liverpool went to bed with their arch-rivals in a plot that risked the upheaval of the sport as we know it.
Bizarrely, the Super League has been described by one of its architects, Juventus’ snakelike president Andrea Agnelli, as akin to Call of Duty and Fortnite in its appeal to the younger audience.
The vision was aimed at the TikTok generation, with the belief that attention spans will continue to drop, and viewed through the lens of a lucrative multi-billion investment from American bank JP Morgan.
Unfortunately for them, their ‘rich get richer’ model was too transparent – and served to unite the rest of football in its opposition.
One of the key leaders within this, at least in England, was the Liverpool captain.
It was Henderson who organised a meeting of the Premier League captains, and who led discussions among his team-mates to unite with a social media statement at 9pm on Tuesday night.
“We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen,” could be seen on every Liverpool first-team player’s timeline, pledging their “absolute and unconditional” commitment to the supporters.
The message was stark, and though he was not the first player to voice his opposition, it was clearly a pivotal motion from the 30-year-old.
Two hours later and Liverpool had confirmed their withdrawal from the Super League, their statement a pathetic 47 words, while the following morning owner John W. Henry apologised to Klopp, his squad and the supporters for causing “disruption.”
Henry namechecked Klopp and chief executive Billy Hogan, but he should also have acknowledged Henderson, as the heartbeat of a Reds squad battling convention, and at times their own employers, in pursuit of equality.
As the captain noted, he put a pause on his collaboration with anti-cyberbullying non-profit Cybersmile to post to his social channels, “because, as Liverpool players, it needs to be said.”
But with mission complete – at least to an extent – Henderson’s timeline will revert to sharing the stories of those afflicted by harmful abuse online, which has so far included racism, sexism and body shaming.
Earlier this week, he was nominated as a ‘Football Ally’ at the British LGBT Awards, with these causes fundamentally more important than the finances of sport.
Henderson was also central to the support of the NHS through the Players Together initiative, picking up the slack for the Tory government and raising millions for an underfunded lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic.
These are endeavours Henderson is not required to spearhead, but that he does so serves as the embodiment of the club’s mantra, You’ll Never Walk Alone.
It is a long road since he inherited the armband from Steven Gerrard, amid concerns he would struggle to live up to the legendary midfielder, but now it can be argued that his leadership has exceeded that of his predecessor.
Gerrard led by example on the pitch, while Henderson is a vocal, mindful standard-bearer – and it helps that he too is an exceptional player, whose absence has been felt during his downtime with a groin injury.
Henderson will ask for no thanks, but he should certainly receive it, with Adam Lallana having already sung his praises ahead of the dissolution of the Super League on Tuesday night.
“He’s proven on countless occasions that he leads all the captains and the football club,” the Brighton midfielder said, with that list of leaders looking up to Henderson including the outspoken likes of Conor Coady, Ben Mee and Seamus Coleman.
This authority and awareness is invaluable, and the confidence to stand up to his employers, Fenway Sports Group, and by extension the avarice ranks of the Super League, should be commended.
These are rare qualities and they must be cherished, along with his vice-captain James Milner, who arguably got the ball rolling as he told Sky Sports on Sunday: “I don’t like it and hopefully it doesn’t happen.”
So here’s to you, Jordan Henderson. The compassionate, ballsy leader Liverpool needed to help take down the Super League.