Jordan Henderson should be lauded after leading Liverpool FC to glory
AN opinion poll to rank the most popular current Liverpool FC players would probably return results along the following lines:
Mo Salah. Virgil van Dijk. Sadio Mane. Alisson Becker. Bobby Firmino. Trent Alexander-Arnold. Andy Robertson. James Milner. Fabinho. Gini Wijnaldum. Divock Origi. The last-named might even be much higher after becoming a Champions League goal machine.
Much as I admire all of those, that makes me a little sad. (Yes, I know, I’m extremely sad anyway).
That’s not due to the absence of Joel Matip, although the languid centre half has been excellent this year.
No, Jordan Henderson’s name should be on that list, and high up it too.
Not because he lifted the European Cup/ Champions League trophy as captain on Saturday night
I’m not even getting misty-eyed about that post-match hug with his dad, who’d recovered from throat cancer.
No, ‘Hendo’ should be loved and admired on his own merits, on and off the pitch.
Several examples of the measure of the man, all from Madrid.
One involved another hug, this time with BT Sport’s Des Kelly. Many modern players treat the media with barely disguised contempt, but Henderson made a point of hugging Kelly after their post-final interview.
When he went to collect the trophy, many would have been ready to roar a ‘4Q’ to the world – instead, Henderson said ‘Thank you’ when receiving ‘Old Big Ears’; in fact it looked like ‘thank you very much’.
He also appeared almost to be apologising to Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino when he spoke to him on the pitch.
Henderson had more reason than most to roar defiance at the world. He has been through the mill, under-appreciated and over-criticised for substantial parts of his Liverpool (and England) career.
His signing apparently was a major factor, less than a year later, in Damien Comolli losing his Director of Football role with the Reds in April 2012.
The incoming manager Brendan Rodgers did many good things in his time at Anfield, but never forget that he wanted Henderson to leave Liverpool as a makeweight in a deal for Clint Dempsey. Clint Dempsey. A makeweight.
Hendo preferred to stay and fight for his place and he certainly has had to show character, often subject to public ridicule even from some of his own club’s so-called supporters.
Every minor mistake that Henderson makes is magnified. Bigger blunders by others are ignored.
The idiocy of the criticism of Henderson is summed up by this: many slated him because he wasn’t as good as Steven Gerrard.
I’d wager that many of those people would also tell you that Gerrard is Liverpool’s best ever player.
They’re wrong, of course; he’s not even the club’s best ever midfielder.
Yet that debate is immaterial.
Think about it (that may be the problem with some): Henderson got criticised because he wasn’t as good as someone you believe to be Liverpool’s best ever player, or one of the best.
By that logic, Manchester City should have been criticised this season because they fell short of their own astonishing Premier League points tally of 100 points from the 2017-18 campaign.
Many football fans are inconsistent idiots, of course.
Some Arsenal supporters are now praising Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for his ‘Once a Gooner, always a Gooner’ remarks after Liverpool stopped Spurs becoming Champions of Europe.
Yet plenty of Arsenal fans lambasted ‘the Ox’ for leaving north London and mocked him as he took time to settle in at Liverpool.
Henderson made a slow start too - plenty of players do after a move – but he has become one of the Reds’ most consistent and most important players.
It’s been largely forgotten that Henderson was sent off in injury time during Liverpool’s 3-2 home victory over Manchester City in April 2014, a result that seemed set to bring the league title back to Anfield.
Instead, Hendo missed three of the last four league games, and the Reds picked up only four points from those, infamously losing at home to Chelsea and throwing away a three-goal lead to only draw at Crystal Palace, having battled to a 3-2 win at lowly Norwich.
That’s not to say that results would definitely have been different had Henderson been able to play in those games – but you can bet your bottom dollar that the absence of Gerrard would have been amplified.
Henderson was arguably even more important to the team, though, given that Gerrard was never the most positionally disciplined of midfielders, and that side was very attacking, also including Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, and Luis Suarez.
In those three matches he missed, Liverpool conceded seven goals – even their leaky defence wouldn’t have expected to let in more than four based on that season’s average up to then.
Ironically, some of the criticism of Henderson comes from him putting the team before himself.
Manager Jurgen Klopp over much of this season and last deployed Henderson as a holding midfielder, rather than allowing him to be the box-to-box player that he truly is, or at least freeing him to play further forward.
Once Fabinho settled in (and, for a laugh, hunt out some of those daft, rush-to-judgment articles from halfway through this season questioning that signing) Henderson was able to show what he can do in the attacking third.
I truly wonder if I watch the same matches as people who claim ‘he never passes the ball forward’, given some of the stupendous through balls he delivers.
He played through the pain of a first half knee injury to lead Liverpool into the final by battering Barcelona 4-0, the result that truly won this year’s Champions League trophy.
While Liverpool fans will be holding six fingers up from now on, Henderson is entitled to stick two up to all his critics – but he won’t because he’s much better than that.