After a commanding performance for his country, Jordan Henderson is finally beginning to get the level of recognition he deserves.
Lining up as the midfield linchpin for his country, Henderson has been presented with an excellent opportunity to impress a significantly broader audience and dispel lasting, and indeed frustrating, misconceptions about his game.
For many who don’t watch Liverpool on a weekly basis, Henderson is synonymous with mediocrity, inefficacy and, above all, his sideways passes. Those individuals tend to assume that the Reds skipper offers the team little else than his exceptional work-rate.
But any sensible England supporter will have realised on Monday night that this assessment of Henderson’s abilities was hugely inaccurate.
Time after time, Henderson picked up possession and pinged a long pass to the flanks with superb accuracy. It was not a case of switching the play for the sake of it – each curling ball led to an opening, stretching the Tunisian defence. He was showcasing distributive capabilities similar to that of the Liverpool captain he succeeded.
Moreover, he played an absolutely crucial role in a markedly more attacking England side, easing back into the defence when the full-backs chose to bomb forward.
Those inside the Volgograd Arena, meanwhile, were impressed by how vocal he was, how he proved himself to be a real leader with his team desperately trying to grind out a result which ensured the preservation of a rare mood of genuine optimism.
It was Harry Kane wearing the armband and scoring the vital goals, they said, but it was Henderson who was rallying the troops.
Indeed, Henderson’s attitude has been the subject of considerable praise. The 28-year-old’s dedication, in taking that extra hour on the training pitch or in the gym, is peerless. That, by the way, is not a blind assumption – Steven Gerrard said exactly that in a recent interview.
The excellent display was no surprise for Reds fans. Over the final few months of the season, Henderson’s many backers were able to deconstruct the arguments of his equally numerous critics within our own fan-base.
He was fantastic over the journey to Kiev, particularly on those memorable European nights at Anfield when his chest-thumping performances really encapsulated the passion of the occasion.
And yet, in spite of these significant strides, Henderson might find his first-team football seriously limited next year.
With two new additions already under their belt, Liverpool have Fabinho, Naby Keita, James Milner (who flourished last season when the onset of his decline was anticipated), Gini Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana all competing with Henderson for just three midfield spots. And who’s to say that quite remarkable depth won’t be bolstered by the arrival of a more creative presence before the end of the window?
When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain comes back into the fold (November is the date we’re hearing at the moment), you would imagine he’ll slot back into the team after an encouraging first season at Anfield.
Fabinho, Keita, Ox is Jurgen Klopp’s favoured trio, many believe.
The Brazilian is expected to tick a box Liverpool have left largely unchecked since the departure of Javier Mascherano and effectively protect the defence, his strength and top-notch success rate in the tackle rendering him a ‘brick wall’ for advancing attackers.
Importantly, that will not mean sacrificing Henderson’s composure on the ball – both players have been near the summit of the charts for total passes in their respective divisions of late.
Quite simply, it would appear (and we are guessing) that the club expect Fabinho to do Henderson’s job better. Both could feasibly start, but then you risk a repeat of the exact situation Liverpool are trying to avoid when the midfield becomes too cautious or defensive-minded, even with the firecracker Keita on the scene.
Fabinho is currently set to start every Champions League Premier League game aside from those, perhaps, which directly precede or follow European encounters.
It is hard to envisage Klopp confining his £40m acquisition, one of the most highly-rated players of his ilk in Europe, to a place on the bench.
In theory, depth means competition and competition means players up their game. Whilst Can and Henderson rotated largely as equals, the latter is now fighting to avoid becoming a second-string option and this could potentially push him to another level. After all, his motivation is clear to see.
It is, then, a curious situation. Henderson has won over and continues to win over many of his innumerable critics. But he may well find it difficult to continue that process when the next domestic campaign rolls around. His progress might be halted. He has what it takes to really challenge Fabinho and must prove that to the manager when he returns from international duty.
It could well be a career-defining period for the man who wears the armband.