Is Henderson a better fit for the England armband?

While Harry Kane is no doubt an elite player, are his leadership qualities on par with his footballing ability?

The year is 2018 and England’s World Cup run has come to an end. The downtrodden side head, forlorn, down the tunnel of Moscow’s Luzhiniki Stadium and back to their dressing room, dreams of replicating heroes of yore in tatters. Though at that moment, the morale of the players and onlooking supporters was low, few could fault the progress made by this squad.

A sense of hope had ignited the nation’s sense of both optimism and patriotism. For the first time in a long time, there was genuine belief in an England team. Not since the golden generation of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and the like had supporters so much as considered the possibility of silverware.

Yet, now, they had come so achingly close.

Harry Kane had captained his side to their first semi-final in more than 20 years and while he walked away without a team trophy to show for England’s success, he did leave with the golden boot held aloft – an individual victory which seemingly eased the blow:

Kane had converted six opportunities on his way to the top of the scoring charts, vaulting ahead of names including Kylian Mbappe and Cristiano Ronaldo in the process. Though goals aren’t everything.

His countryman, Jordan Henderson, was repeatedly singled out for his leadership prowess during the course of the tournament, overshadowing Kane’s scoring feats. Always the motivator or the one to calm his side in possession, the Liverpool skipper certainly remembered to pack his sense of leadership before departing for Russia; despite leaving his armband at home.

A look through the history books shows that it’s not always necessary to have your most talented player serve as captain. Despite season upon season of putting up record-breaking performances and numbers, Lionel Messi only inherited the captaincy at Barcelona in 2018 following then 33-year-old Andres Iniesta’s move to China.

In another instance, regardless of AC Milan’s Paulo Maldini inheriting the captain’s armband at 29, he went on to wear it for the next twelve years, eventually passing it along to fellow Rossoneri, Genarro Gattuso, following his retirement at the ripe footballing age of 41.

While both legends of the game, the two former leaders share another quality: they embodied the very souls of their respective sides. Iniesta’s style of play, Maldini’s gracefulness and both their composure made them perfect candidates to lead their team out onto the pitch each and every week.

Take a look at Henderson as captain at Liverpool. He acts as a conduit for the message his manager, Jurgen Klopp, seeks to relay to his players in every game they play – intensity and organised pressing. Contrastingly, Kane is yet to be selected for the same duty for his side; alluding to the possibility that perhaps he is not what his team is all about.

Despite acting as skipper for his country, the Tottenham man is pipped to the task by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris; whose performances continue to divide opinion. As a Tottenham academy graduate and with clear leadership experience from his time with England, Kane is yet to make the step up for his club side.

This begs the question, what qualities is he lacking that makes his managers hesitant to promote the attacker?Β 

It’s been a topic of debate for some time now that Tottenham sometimes must ‘shoehorn’ Kane into the side. In 2019, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher claimed that they at times “…play better football without him”, preferring the spritely Lucas Moura’s impact that saw his side through to last year’s Champions League Final. Amidst growing reports and links of a move away for the 26-year-old Kane, Spurs might have their hands forced regardless.

In the aforementioned European final against Henderson’s Liverpool, it is widely believed that Kane put his own interests before that of the team. Having claimed to be fit and ready despite recovering from a long-term injury. The two-time Premier League golden boot winner proceeded to have little impact on the game; ultimately ending up on the losing side.

Jordan Henderson however, forms a stark contrast. Aside from his selfless performances on the pitch that have culminated in European and World triumphs, his recent actions off of it highlight his sense of responsibility and leadership prowess. The box-to-box midfielder has shown once again that he can go the extra mile, rallying other Premier League captains to form the #playerstogether initiative in aid of NHS charities amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.

Having picked up a hamstring injury in the last leg of the Premier League season, question marks hung above Kane’s Euro 2020 campaign with Henderson looking set to inherit the captaincy in his place. Though, due to the delay of the competition for the foreseeable future, it seems England head-coach Gareth Southgate might have been given something of a selection headache.

Southgate claimed it was a privilege “to have such a top striker who has such humility and such a low ego…” as Harry Kane before heading into the previous world cup, therefore the waistcoat wielding gaffer may choose to stick rather than twist on an already strong hand. But following the recent fortunes of his primary and secondary choices, perhaps a gamble might pay greater dividends in the near future.

Kane has scored 181 goals in 278 games for Spurs, as well as 32 goals in 45 England outings. He is undoubtedly a world-class talent.

But is his talent alone enough to haul his country that one step closer to glory? Or would England be better served by the same gravitas that has seen Jordan Henderson ink himself and his team in the history books?

Jordan Yeardsley-Jones
Forever trying to understand newfangled football terminology - what is a trequartista anyway?
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