Following a succession of injury-plagued campaigns, questions have been raised over Jordan Henderson’s place at Liverpool. Tom Beattie speaks in defence of the England midfielder.
In the summer of 2012, Jordan Henderson’s fledgling Liverpool career seemed to be at a crossroads as the arrival of Irishman Brendan Rodgers on Merseyside ushered in a new era at Anfield. The former Sunderland man had endured a difficult inaugural campaign under Kenny Dalglish as a raft of expensive British acquisitions flattered to deceive during a mercurial campaign where the Reds limped to an uncustomary 8th place in the Premier League despite recording the Reds’ only trophy win of the decade thus far in the form of the League Cup and a thrilling run to the FA Cup final in which the Reds eventually fell to the sword of Chelsea, going down 2-1 losers at Wembley in what proved to be one of Kenny Dalglish’s final games at the helm. At times, the youngster had become a figure of vitriol on the terraces, the scapegoat for many of the derisory displays that blighted the Reds’ league fortunes during an annus horribilis at Anfield. The Teesider, who had began the season as one of the most hotly tipped youngsters in the country, emerged from the season with a reputation dented and with a point to prove.
Under new management, Brendan Rodgers now tasked with the job of restoring Liverpool to their former glories, it soon became clear that Henderson faced a real fight for his future at Anfield. In a summer-long saga that still lingers in the memory, Liverpool’s steadfast pursuit of Fulham hotshot Clint Dempsey indicated Henderson’s place in the former Swansea boss’ plans. In haste, as the transfer window began to creep towards its conclusion, the Reds formulated a haphazard attempt to lure the American forward to Merseyside, with Henderson, just a season into his fledgling career at Anfield, offered in part exchange. Clearly, or so it appeared, Henderson’s days on Merseyside were numbered. Offered as a bargaining tool to the West London club, the England international appeared to be surplus to requirements under Brendan Rodgers. Along with, amongst others, Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll, Henderson it appeared, to Rodgers, represented the kind of player that had no place in his plans. The Irishman had his own ideas for the direction that he wanted to take the Reds in and to him the admittedly much-maligned Henderson was disposable.
The youngster, however, seemingly had other ideas.
Fast forward six months, Clint Dempsey was plying his trade in the white of Tottenham Hotspur, the White Hart Lane club stealing a march on the Reds to secure the services of the American, leaving Anfield officials licking their wounds and, once can imagine, Jordan Henderson, who had rejected out of hand a switch down south, breathing a huge sigh of relief. Game time, admittedly, looked as though it would be a limited commodity for the youngster as the then 22 year old starlet set about repairing a damaged reputation and forcing himself into the plans of a manager who had only months before deemed him expendable. Rodgers had also added former Borussia Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin, who’s own career looked at risk of stagnation after two injury plagued seasons at the Bernabeu and a decline in the form he had showed during his time at the Westfelstadion, to his ranks on a season-long loan, in effect forcing Henderson further down the Anfield midfield pecking order. Within a matter of months of the Turk’s arrival, however, Rodgers took the decision to cut short Sahin’s stint on Merseyside, a return to Germany beckoning for the midfield general. A drop in form after a bright start on Merseyside played a factor but the emergence of an invigorated and enthusiastic Henderson showed welcome indications of what was to come from the England midfielder.
Henderson’s emergence after a difficult campaign where the youngster struggled with the pressure of a £20m price tag and a dearth of confidence during the second half of the 2012/13 season cemented his place at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield; his character, guile and energetic displays from midfield earning acclaim as the Reds recovered from a disenchanting start to Rodgers’ tenure. Though unspectacular, Henderson’s work ethic gave Liverpool a real outlet from midfield and the ageing Steven Gerrard a new lease of life at the base of the Reds’ midfield as the Irishman’s side showed glimpses of the kind of form that would prove to drag Liverpool agonisingly close to an unlikely title win the following year. The additions of Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho, themselves arriving with a point to prove, saw Liverpool begin to take on the complexion that we have become familiar with in the years that followed with one of the great positives of Rodgers’ inaugural campaign in the hot-seat undoubtedly being the blossoming of Henderson, whose displays in midfield showed great improvement, the youngster’s combative style and high-energy efforts indicative of the former Sunderland man’s professionalism and uncompromising attitude.
The campaign that followed, of course, saw Henderson’s rise continue as the Reds came as close as they had during the Premier League era to ending their domestic hoodoo. What was undoubtedly clear, upon the conclusion of this campaign was Henderson’s importance to the side, a sending off for an uncustomary rush of blood to the head in the final minute against Manchester City in the Reds’ famous 3-2 win, signalling the end of his campaign and, to some, although we didn’t know it at the time, a significant factor in the derailment of the Reds’ season as the wheels came off their title challenge in the most dramatic of fashions following a defeat to Mourinho’s Chelsea at Anfield, followed by the now infamous 3-3 stalemate at Selhurst Park that all but ended Liverpool’s thrilling, yet unsuccessful slight at the title, the void left from his absence plain to see. Henderson emerged from the campaign as arguably one of Liverpool’s most vital assets, something that was emphasised in the most cruel of circumstances as Liverpool’s title challenge ran out of steam towards the end of the campaign. If Liverpool’s season ran out of steam; he, many would have suggested, represented our proverbial steam with the Reds lesser off for his absence.
It was quite the turn around for the youngster who had started Rodgers’ reign as an also-ran and an outcast, yet had emerged, at what would prove to be the apotheosis of the Irishman’s tenure, as the unsung, unselfish embodiment of the high-energy guile and tenacity that dragged Liverpool oh-so-near to glory.
Henderson would start the following campaign as vice-captain following the departure of Reds favourite Daniel Agger as a reward for his show of character and as a clear indication of his importance to the side. Clearly, the midfielder had staying power. In many ways, for me, the common theme throughout Henderson’s time at Anfield has been an uncompromising strength of character and an impeccable attitude, on and off the field, that has encompassed his six year stay on Merseyside as a whole. It is, after all, so easy to forget the England midfielder’s difficult start to life at Anfield and stands as a testament to the midfielder’s grit and mentality as much as anything. The 27 year old stands as a beacon of professionalism and as a great example for everyone at the club of the standards expected on and, indeed off the pitch.
The England midfielder, would, I’m sure be the first to admit that the his first campaign on Merseyside probably ranks as one of the most difficult career Anfield to date but his impeccable attitude and professionality, particularly following what must have been an extremely tough first summer under Brendan Rodgers and emergence in the seasons that followed as one of the Reds’ most valued performers just shows the personality of a player that exudes the kind of never-say-die attitude that Liverpool Football Club has became known for around the world.
Henderson has endured some admittedly frustrating injury-struck campaigns in the time since the departure of Rodgers but who would’ve guessed that the midfielder would outlast the Irishman at Anfield after the Teesider was offered as a makeweight in the ultimately unsuccessful approach for Clint Dempsey’s services back in Brendan Rodgers’ first transfer window on Merseyside. The fact that the deal in question fell through, one could argue represents one of the biggest and perhaps, most important, near-misses, in the Reds’ recent history. Dempsey, one should note, would end the season himself surplus to requirements at White Hart Lane and would depart England for his native America before the start of the new campaign, in which Liverpool’s comeback kid, conversely, would play a starring role in the Reds’ storied tilt at the title.
Admittedly, as some have in the past weeks suggested, the argument that Henderson’s past victories over his critics do not necessary mean that the midfielder, at-present, warrants his role in the starting line up or, indeed, as captain, does perhaps stand up to reason. This said, what one cannot deny is that clearly the England man has history in the form of proving his detractors wrong and for that reason alone, without even factoring in his obvious talent, I’d write the Sunderland native off at your peril. Henderson, for the benefit of those with shorter memories, has been here before and I would bank on him silencing anyone who has again questioned his worth to this Liverpool side this time around as well.
It is worth noting that, in Liverpool’s armoury, Henderson is arguably one of the side’s most experienced assets and this factor, on and off the pitch will, undoubtedly prove vital for this young Liverpool side as the Reds aim to challenge on all four fronts this season. I, admittedly, again, would be the first to admit that the England midfielder has had a slower start to the season than would be expected by his standards but patience is very much required with any player that is returning from a long injury lay-off and Henderson, captain or not, is no different. The Reds are a better team for Henderson’s inclusion and his form before his most recent injury lay off as Liverpool came out of the blocks strongly last season, was arguably up there with the best of Europe’s midfielders; the 27 year old’s absence only highlighting his importance to the side as the Reds slumped to a succession of defeats in a bleak January.
In short, over the course of this coming season, I remain convinced with complete conviction that Jordan Henderson will, again, silence the detractors – as he has so many times before-that have surfaced during Liverpool’s start of the campaign and his paramount importance to the side will emerge once more. In the meantime the very least we can do is get behind our captain.
By Tom Beattie