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Jordan Henderson: A career spent proving people wrong

The unhighlighted part of Jordan Henderson's career - The path which lead him to become the captain of the European Champions.  

Saikat Banerjee
Last updated: 30.09.2019
Jordan Henderson- A career spent proving people wrong | Sports Social Blog

1 June 2019, as the final whistle blows in Madrid, Jordan Henderson hits the turf, bent double by relief. The result had been beyond doubt as injury time ticked down and only at the end of the contest can emotion be released in one rush. Three seconds later, Henderson attempts to stand up but his legs give way again. It takes Adam Lallana’s support for him to stand and walk a few paces forward. As soon as Lallana leaves their embrace, Henderson dips his head again. The magnitude of the achievement and the struggle of the journey towards it have hit home.

Henderson never thought he would get there. Four weeks earlier, he had received a blow to the knee during the first half of Liverpool’s semi-final second leg against Barcelona. Desperate to stay on the pitch, Henderson accepted a pain-killing injection and took tablets at half-time and vowed to play on through the pain. He had feared that his season was over. In many ways, it was just getting started. After Henderson’s initial outpouring of emotion, he celebrates with his teammates and accepts the affection of Jurgen Klopp.

But Liverpool’s captain had one more mission. Walking to the corner of the Wanda Metropolitano where he knew his father had been watching the match. Brian Henderson suffered from throat cancer in 2013 and asked his son not to see him for fear of distracting him from his career. It had all been worth it, and it had all been for this. They held each other and sobbed and never wanted to let go.

Henderson is Liverpool’s captain and their longest-serving player. At this club more than most. The four previous players who have captained Liverpool to the European Cup (Emlyn Hughes, Graeme Souness, Phil Thompson and Steven Gerrard) averaged over 550 games in red for Henderson, the journey has been a little different. He came close to joining Manchester United instead, only for Alex Ferguson to determine that his running style was bizarre and would cause him injury problems. In 2012, a year after joining Liverpool, Henderson cried when he was told by Brendan Rodgers that he had been offered to Fulham in a swap deal for Clint Dempsey.

Even under Klopp, no plain sailing. Henderson has never started more than 25 league games in a Klopp season. When Liverpool signed Fabinho, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Georginio Wijnaldum over a two-year period, most expected the captain to lose his status and his place in the team. Henderson became a target for criticism.

Even last season, Henderson worried enough about his place following Fabinho’s success as the deepest-lying midfielder that he approached Klopp about taking on a different role. Rather than accepting his fate, Henderson pleaded that he had the attributes to play as a box-to-box No. 8. Klopp was impressed, gave Henderson a chance to prove his worth and then apologised publicly having been bowled over by his performances in the new position.

Every time we expect him to drop out, Henderson disproves the theory. He is one of only four players to have appeared in more than 100 of Klopp’s 150 Premier League games. He has never been more important.


Winning on a Saturday can make him feel untouchable, and as club captain that can have a positive impact on those around him. In that sense, he is Klopp’s general on the pitch. Watch Liverpool often enough and you will see him regularly raising both hands to demand more from his teammates like a conductor calling for a crescendo from his orchestra. That happens whatever the scoreline.

What can’t be argued against is that Henderson makes teams better. He has started in one Premier League defeat since October 2017, and in two England defeats since June 2014 (and in one of those, against Croatia at the World Cup, he came off with the game level at 1-1). Swansea, Manchester United, Chelsea – all without Henderson. Netherlands and Iceland in 2016, Belgium twice in 2018 – all without Henderson.

According to Klopp, running harder, faster and longer can make the difference and Henderson is the embodiment of that image. Every time he gets knocked down, he vows to come back stronger. Every time he succeeds he uses that success as fuel to go again.

“The most difficult job in the last 500 years of football was to replace Steven Gerrard,” said Klopp in April. “In the mind of the people, it was like if it’s not Stevie, then it’s not good enough. But Hendo, from my point of view, is a brilliant player. If I had to write a book about Hendo, it would be 500 pages.”

There are stars in Liverpool’s team that make a difference. Without them, this rise to European and domestic prominence would not have been possible. But there are workers too, and without them, it would not be possible for the stars to make a difference. There are few more divisive English players of his generation, but judge Henderson by his reputation amongst those who matter to him and you quickly become convinced by his value.

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