The case for Jordan Henderson

Jordan Henderson has proved for the umpteenth time that he is as good as captain you’ll find in the Premier League with his recent actions.

When reports began to circulate early last week that Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson was in contact with Premier League captains regarding a contribution fund to support the NHS, it would have been of little surprise to the Liverpool fans, or his coaches and teammates for that matter, who have watched him lead his team every week for the last number of years. Leadership personified.

Instead of spending his time in isolation in the front pages, like Kyle Walker, for example, the Champions League-winning captain has been putting in a phenomenal effort in supporting the frontline heroes, without seeking any credit whatsoever.

The past few years have seen Liverpool return to Europe’s elite. This, in turn, has meant that their players are gaining worldwide praise and acknowledgement of their ability.

It has seen a slight shift in the public opinion of Henderson. A man who was once a bit of a meme is now a Champions League-winning captain. In fact, his superb leadership ability alone has even brought him into contention for the 2019/20 PFA Player of the Year award, if you believe some pundits, journalists and supporters.

So there can be no doubting his character, both on and off the pitch. However, in terms of actual footballing ability, seldom does a player split fan’s opinion to such extent as Henderson has, from both a Liverpool and opposing perspective.

For a period, it became popular to doubt his talent, as mentioned previously. He’s no Steven Gerrard as so many feel the need to constantly remind everybody.

He doesn’t top too many stats either. But what he does cannot be seen on Squawka or WhoScored. Yes, he holds back to allow the fullbacks to do the damage offensively. But there is so much more to Jordan Henderson than providing the platform for others to thrive.

He is more than a player who simply demands the most from his teammates, improving their performances rather than his own. This is a footballer who Brendan Rodgers claimed was the reason Liverpool did not win the 2013/14 Premier League title due to the fact that he was missed so much while he was suspended for three vital games.

He is also a footballer who appeared on Soccer AM’s popular segment ‘Skill School’ as a teenager, displaying fantastic technical ability and wonderful skill. Add to this his criminally underrated passing ability, and you will find a technically underrated player.

The truth is that it is rare to see a Liverpool game go by without Henderson spotting and executing a pass that can rival any made by Kevin De Bruyne, or dare I say it, Steven Gerrard.

Does he play these passes as frequently as De Bruyne or Gerrard? No, but it is not his job to do so. This writer is not saying he is as good a passer as either of the aforementioned duo, the point being made is that Jordan Henderson is capable of a top-drawer pass, despite what some may say.

He is also an underrated striker of the ball. Again, he isn’t going to compare to a Gerrard or a Frank Lampard, but he plays a completely different position to both. All one has to do is look back on the 29 league goals he has scored.

Perhaps his goal numbers are not elite, but the quality of these goals certainly is. Goals scored against Norwich, Manchester City and Chelsea are particular standouts.

Henderson also has more Premier League assists than both Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira, two of the best central midfielders in the league’s history. These are the types of player he should be compared to, as his role is more similar to these than Gerrard, Lampard or De Bruyne.

He has the ability, he just hasn’t always been given free rein to display it due to playing so much football as a holding midfielder.

There can be no doubting his physical attributes either, as at six foot and with a broad physique, he does not lose too many duels, regularly sweeping up counter attacks with strong tackles before they even have a chance to begin. He is also deceivingly quick and covers an ungodly amount of ground.

From a tactical standpoint, he is equally adept in both the 6 and the 8 roles. Mentally aware enough to hold his position in the 6 and more than fit enough to go from box-to-box in the 8, there is an argument that he is world class in both positions.

The 13/14 season that was mentioned previously must be used as an example of how he can play this box-to-box role so efficiently. After suffering criticism in his early Liverpool career, including his famous proposed move to Fulham in a swap deal for Clint Dempsey, this was the season that the majority of Liverpool fans noticed the player they had, and many suggested him as Gerrard’s replacement as captain.

This form continued into 2014/15, with Gerrard being phased out of the team, Henderson wore the armband on numerous occasions, and ended the season with sixleague goals and nine league assists, with many tipping him to be included in the PFA Team of the Year.

Both the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons are further proof of his forgotten ability as a number 8. With Fabinho at the base of midfield, Henderson was granted more freedom to get forward, and this can be seen by his vastly improved goal and assist return.

This season has seen his best output since that 14/15 season, despite it not yet being completed. So it is obvious that Henderson is an outstanding number 8.

Jordan Henderson.

In fact, it was the 2015/16 season that the criticism began to creep back in. Henderson’s season was plagued by injury, and he only made 15 league starts. This also coincided with Jurgen Klopp’s mid-season arrival and Henderson’s move to the number 6, or holding midfield position.

So he was trying to learn a new position in a season plagued by injury with a mid-season managerial change. It must be said that the conditions were far from ideal, and it was obviously going to take time to settle in and produce consistently great performances.

This holding role is where he remained until Fabinho joined and began playing regularly, halfway through the 18/19 season. When the Brazilian picked up an injury against Napoli in November 2019, Henderson made the move back to the 6.

He adapted admirably and produced the performances that have earned him so much praise this season. His versatility doesn’t stop there – he even played at centre back in the Club World Cup beside Joe Gomez and didn’t look at all out of place. Not bad for a workhorse, is it?

Jordan Henderson.

It must be said that too many have jumped on the anti-Henderson bandwagon without actually seeing him play often enough. He is an 8-out-of-10 every week, and if one was to count the amount of small, but vital, things every Liverpool player completed in every game, Henderson would undoubtedly come out on top.

Perhaps this contact with his fellow players will encourage them to vote for him to be crowned Footballer of the Year. And yes, if this week has proved anything, it is that Jordan Brian Henderson is a remarkable man and an outstanding leader.

But maybe, just maybe, it is time to recognise the footballing ability beneath it all.

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