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Jordan Henderson: An underdog following in the footsteps of giants

Jordan Henderson‘s Liverpool career has not been without its struggles and criticism, but through the adversity, a fearless leader has emerged and etched his name into history.

This is a squad full of legends. It almost feels as though we’ve got too many and that the credibility of the term is compromised by the sheer volume, but after all it has achieved it is a group of players who have well and truly cemented their position among the greats.

No matter where you choose to draw that line, Henderson is a bona fide Liverpool Football Club legend. The club’s current longest-serving player has broken new ground as a captain and etched his name into history.

In Paris, he became the first Englishman to captain a team in three European Cup finals, and having extended his stay at Anfield until 2025, it would take a brave man to bet against him adding to that tally before his race is run.

It would, however, be inaccurate to declare that his Liverpool days have been plain sailing. Henderson arrived at the club as part of a Kenny Dalglish-led rebuild in 2011 for £20 million, a healthy sum even in today’s money.

He had his doubters at the time and in truth, they’ve never entirely dissipated. He drew lazy criticism for sideways passing and was written off, dismissed as limited before his career had time to gather any real momentum.

In 2012, Brendan Rodgers famously attempted to use Henderson as a makeweight in a deal for Clint Dempsey, but the Sunderland-born midfielder resolutely stood his ground and just three years later was appointed club captain, replacing a departing Steven Gerrard. Even then eyebrows were raised.

 

The weight of the armband

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)

His tenure as captain has surpassed anyone’s wildest dreams.

The biggest of shoes required filling when Henderson took the armband in 2015. Still, in comparing the position the club was in at that stage to where it currently resides, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Liverpool captain who has overseen a better period.

Having now performed the pigeon steps with every single club trophy in his hands, where does Henderson sit among the all-time great Liverpool captains?

Even the most optimistic of Liverpool supporters would’ve struggled to envisage a period of glory quite like the one Henderson has overseen as the leader.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, July 22, 2020: Liverpool’s captain Jordan Henderson kisses the Premier League trophy during the trophy presentation as the Reds are crowned Champions after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

During that time he has been an integral part of everything that has made Liverpool the success story it is. Jurgen Klopp said it himself:

“Nothing we achieved in the last few years would have happened without him, that’s easy to say.”

Five men have lifted the European Cup as captain in a Liverpool shirt, and Jordan Henderson belongs in that company.

 

Influential across football

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 27, 2021: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson, wearing a rainbow coloured captain's armband, during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Southampton FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

On the pitch and in the dressing room the man has been exemplary, but his work as a public figure is what has set him apart from the rest. Henderson always finds himself on the right side of morality when it comes to core issues, acting fervently in support of the LGBT community and anti-bullying groups, as well as carrying out extensive charity work.

He also acted as the unofficial captain of the Premier League amidst the Super League proposals in April 2021.

Burnley skipper Ben Mee explained how Henderson rallied his peers, saying: “You know things are serious when Jordan Henderson sends a message to the Premier League captains’ WhatsApp group.” This is a man clearly respected by counterparts and teammates alike.

Henderson’s importance in perhaps the most strenuous season in the club’s history is unquestionable.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 30, 2021: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He turned out 57 times for the Reds in 2021/22, a season which saw Liverpool go all the distance on every front, a season where we were 180 minutes from winning the lot. Not only was that more than any other player in the squad, but it is also the most any player has appeared in a Klopp-managed team over the course of any season.

That influence has always been there, even as a developing midfielder. Henderson was sent off late on in the dramatic 3-2 victory over Manchester City during the title run-in in 2014, an incident to which Rodgers attributes more significance than the infamous Steven Gerrard slip 14 days later.

 

Persistent seeds of doubt

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Monday, August 22, 2022: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson reacts during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If each of his managers and peers can appreciate the impact Henderson brings to the table, where do the occasional waves of criticism come from?

Liverpool’s unflattering start to 2022/23 was always likely to attract scapegoats, and on this occasion, there have been many.

The modern football supporter is as fickle as they come, and the frustrations linked to the club failing to sign a permanent midfielder in the summer have been exacerbated by the early heavy reliance on elder statesmen such as Henderson and James Milner.

There have been examples in the past of Henderson playing through the pain barrier when his colleagues have needed him, as seen against Barcelona when a knee injury required painkilling injections, and it would come as no surprise if it transpired this was a contributing factor to his own early season struggles.

Players with a mindset and temperament as strong as his do not become poor players overnight. Take Goodison Park last December as a paradigm of what the man is still capable of at the peak of his powers.

2J8AE8J Liverpool's Jordan Henderson celebrates with the trophy after winning the Emirates FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Saturday May 14, 2022.

Doubt is something which has stalked him his entire career, and something which fuelled his success and continues to drive him on every season.

It is a sad state of affairs, but in the coming seasons we will see each member of this great Liverpool team depart for pastures new or hang up their boots altogether, such is the natural cycle of football.

Few if any will receive the send-off that Jordan Henderson will receive. His is perhaps the greatest story of them all. He began fighting for his place at the club, he went on to become skipper and win the lot.

With three years remaining on his current deal, there is still ample time to carve out more success for himself and for the club, and he will no doubt continue to play a pivotal role on and off the field.

We are unspeakably fortunate to have this group of players and this captain, and though the road won’t always be smooth, it is always worth remembering that.