Jordan Henderson has put pen to paper on a new deal at Liverpool which will surely see him finish his playing career at Anfield. A satisfying end to a story that only a matter of weeks ago was threatening to turn into a saga.
In days gone by, you suspect, it would have. However, Tuesday’s announcement, almost lost in the deluge of deadline day hysteria, is something few of us would have predicted when he arrived at Anfield a decade ago.
The boy who would become captain joined Liverpool in June 2011 for a fee of £16 million. His signing raised many eyebrows, with Steve Bruce implying that Sunderland had fleeced Liverpool’s director of football, Damien Comolli, and that he would have accepted half that figure to let Jordan leave.
Alex Ferguson later cast aspersions on the 21-year-old’s gait and suggested he couldn’t run properly. However, most damning of all, perhaps, was the early judgment of some Liverpool supporters.
It was a tough baptism for Henderson and his early years at the club would see him almost sold to Fulham in a deal that would bring Clint Dempsey to Anfield. Instead, he would refuse to go and demand the right to fight for his place. We can all be grateful that he did.
Amongst the quotes and soundbites from the player that I saw floating around social media after the announcement of Henderson’s new deal, one stood out above all the rest and it was from the captain himself:
“I’ve loved every minute of it, even when I look back at the tough times, I was still enjoying being a part of this football club.”
Perhaps this, more than anything else, sums up the man best because let’s be clear the tough times could have easily broken him. In the summer of 2011, Jordan was joining a club that had gone through something of a war. The disastrous ownership of Hicks and Gillett was now mercifully over but the brief Roy Hodgson era had shaken the supporters’ faith to the core. Kenny Dalglish, returning initially to steady the ship, had injected a modicum of belief, but the Anfield faithful had transformed into a sceptical bunch.
The team that had once boasted “the best midfield in the world,” with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Momo Sissoko, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, now contained Christian Poulsen, Charlie Adam, Lucas Leiva (who was battling his own critics) and Jonjo Shelvey. Sure, Gerrard was still there, but his perennial task of lifting the Liverpool team above its station had now reached herculean proportions.
Into this mix stepped a young lad from Sunderland. The Reds finished eighth that season, yet despite all of that he was enjoying being part of the club. Perhaps another quote from Hendo best explains how he got from there to here:
Every single season I’ve tried to improve and be better. I’ve given and will continue to give absolutely everything for this football club, the fans and my teammates. That will never change.
He would taste agony and ecstasy in his first season, winning the League Cup final and losing the FA Cup. It’s incredible to think that in the decade that Jordan’s been at Anfield, he’s featured in eight finals, winning four of them and also became a Premier League-winning captain. The latter achievement is of course something no Liverpool skipper has managed in the previous three decades, including one of the club’s greatest, and the man he would be tasked with succeeding, Steven Gerrard. It’s the stuff of Boy’s Own Stories.
Though we can now confidently say that he’s earned the right to lead the team, few would have predicted the impact Henderson would have as captain when he took the armband in 2015. His chances of becoming a Liverpool legend seemed improbable, to say the least, and many felt that replacing an iconic figure like Gerrard was impossible.
Of course, Henderson could never replace Liverpool’s talismanic number eight, nobody could. He has instead carved out his own space and reinterpreted the role. Whereas Stevie quietly and ruthlessly led by example, often grabbing games by the shirt collar and dragging his teammates along for the ride, Jordan is a patrolling figure in the centre of midfield, barking orders, and organising those around him. Nobody rests on their laurels with him in the middle of the park.
Like Gerrard though, Henderson lives and breathes the game. He feels every high and plummets the depths of despair in defeat. He often takes the responsibility for setbacks upon his own shoulders and assigns credit for success to his teammates. He is the kick up the arse and the arm around the shoulder, a leader on and off the pitch.
Are there flaws to his game? Of course, there are. Few players, if any, are perfect, but Henderson’s strengths have more than made up for his weaknesses.
Some have said that giving a four-year deal to a 31-year-old with a recent track record of injuries is not the most sensible decision. I’d argue that in a game that has lost its mind when it comes to contracts and fees, Henderson’s deal is a breath of fresh air. It’s one made for footballing reasons and it has come at the insistence of the player’s manager, Jurgen Klopp. Who is better to judge the prudence of tying down Henderson for the rest of his playing career than him?
He has now amassed 394 appearances for the club in all competitions, and when he leaves Anfield he will have notched up 14 years in a red shirt. Hopefully, he will add to his League Cup, Champions League, World Club Cup, Premier League and UEFA Super Cup winner’s medals.
But even if he doesn’t, Jordan Henderson has already fulfilled a promise barely anyone thought he was capable of keeping, he is a worthy successor to Gerrard and in time to come, will be remembered as a bona fide club legend in his own right.
Here’s to you, skipper.