How Jordan Henderson turned his doubters into believers
Liverpool just keep on winning, don't they? Right now, there may not be a team in the world that could stop their relentless pursuit. While Jurgen Klopp's "Mentality Monsters" continue to find new ways to emerge as victors in each match, closest rivals Manchester City are crumbling under pressure. Maybe, this might just be it.
The agony them Scousers had to go through whilst witnessing Manchester United knock them off their perch, the pain of not winning a league title in nearly 30 years may just come to an end. Amidst all this is captain Jordan Henderson.
A flat-footed midfielder, who gives everything on the pitch, the skipper's contribution to this glorious Liverpool side still goes unnoticed. He capped off the year as the player with the most number of appearances in the Premier League in the previous decade.
Henderson has been a maligned player throughout his career. The shadow of Steven Gerrard looms large over him. To this moment, the Kop hasn't provided Henderson with an opportunity to carve a niche for himself among the pantheon of Liverpool legends with the unfair comparisons to Gerrard. Nowadays, however, the man with the armband is proving why he is so pivotal for this wonderful Liverpool team.
Joining Liverpool at the dawn of the previous decade, Henderson has witnessed the lowest of lows and the highest of highs in a Red shirt. Joining Liverpool as a naive but talented prospect in 2011, Henderson never had it easy during his initial years with the club.
He was deemed to be part of a swap deal in 2012 that involved Clint Dempsey of Fulham, with both players switching clubs. But, deciding to stay and fight for a spot in the first team, it was not long before the breakthrough became inevitable. Only a year later was Henderson a vital cog in Brendan Rodger's group of ‘Nearly Men’ who came within a whisker of the Premier League title.
After a horrendous 2014-15, with Gerrard departing, Henderson was given the armband, just three years after he was given the green light to leave the club.
During the early years of Klopp's tenure at Liverpool, Henderson was deployed as a holding midfielder. He was rather unconvincing in the position, raking in a lot of criticism for his non-risky football and only passing “sideways”. With the arrival of Fabinho in 2018, a textbook defensive midfielder, Henderson's role in the team was under scrutiny again.
He had to start a number of games from the bench until a fixture against Southampton midway through the season proved to be another breakthrough. Coming on as a substitute, Henderson was deployed in a much more advanced role than usual in this match and Liverpool instantly reaped the benefits of this.
Reinventing himself again, this time as a box-to-box midfielder, Henderson proved again how crucial he has been to Liverpool during their charge for the Champions League and once again, losing the Premier League title by the finest of margins.
Another attribute of Henderson’s game is his incredible versatility. From centre-back to right-wing, he has done it all. He was deployed as a right winger during his early days with Sunderland. For Liverpool though, he has been part of the engine in midfield for both Rodgers and Klopp.
After Gerrard left Liverpool leaving a void in holding midfield, Henderson was played there. With the arrival of Fabinho, he was again restored to a box-to-box role. This season, however, his position had been mostly different till injuries sidelined Fabinho. Even though Henderson started games from the right side of midfield, he operated much further forward in the gap between Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah, spraying in one cross after the other.
After the injury to Fabinho, he has been playing in a holding midfield role once again. Even though people were sceptical about this, he has been a revelation throughout December in this position.
Liverpool has not set a foot wrong in the 2019-20 season. With a lead of 13 points and a game in hand, there should be an implosion of colossal proportions for them to slip up again and that looks unlikely.
Asserting their status as the best in the world, the Reds march on. Henderson might not have the pomp of a Kevin De Bruyne or the grit of a Javier Mascherano but still is effective in his own way. There is every chance that the captain does his iconic trophy shuffle again this season.
He is leading a squad that may just be the greatest ever in the club's coveted history, something even Steven Gerrard failed to do so. If this is not a testament to his world-class quality, then what is?Modified 09 Jan 2020, 20:23 IST