In this social media era, finding polarising topics is an easy thing to do. Liverpool fans are quite adept at it: even the most menial of topics are routinely obsessed and fought over. Jordan Henderson, however, is quite an intense case.
To some, he is the underrated midfielder who ties Klopp’s plans together. To others, he is a waste of space who is getting by on the endorsement of his inheritance: he was Steven Gerrard’s replacement and hasn’t lived up to that standard ever since.
Neither side will find their satisfaction: largely because the answer isn’t as plain as “keep him as Liverpool’s permanent number six” or “get rid of him.”
Especially given he’s just signed a new five-year contract.
Klopp didn’t spend £50 million on a new defensive midfielder so that he could keep the midfield that was overrun in the Champions League final in their starting berths: Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum were vastly outmatched by the pair of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, but that doesn’t mean the trio will all of a sudden be ousted from their kits.
The fact Liverpool got to a Champions League final is the very reason for that.
Fabinho and Naby Keita will considerably improve Liverpool’s midfield. Jordan Henderson is not a necessity on the pitch, not like he has been in the past. But that doesn’t mean he won’t see action.
His tribulations with a damaged ankle mean that he can’t be deployed in his best position, his passing range isn’t good enough for the role he’s been encouraged to play since the extent of the injury to his heel was revealed, and while he’s strong defensively, Fabinho is simply better. In fact, based on his performances in the early stages of this season, Gini Wijnaldum is a more competent #6 than Liverpool’s captain.
Which, of course, means that jingoism rears its ugly head again: if Henderson has no role to play on the pitch, then he should be binned and that’s an end of it – because people want to be right.
The reality is a bit different, though, isn’t it?
Jürgen Klopp didn’t need Sebastian Kehl, his Dortmund captain when his Dortmund team arrived at their peak. Kehl wouldn’t displace either of Sven Bender and Nuri Sahin, especially given his fitness was constantly in doubt following a severe injury to his left knee that saw him kept out of action for nearly two years. Upon his return, he was named the captain of Borussia Dortmund – and proceeded to make only six Bundesliga appearances over the next two seasons.
No, Jordan Henderson will likely not make a measly twelve league appearances over two seasons, and while his injury has hampered him, he was still able to make contributions to the Reds’ riveting run to the Champions League final.
But that’s a bit beside the point, isn’t it? Because while Liverpool might have no need for Jordan Henderson on the pitch – Jürgen Klopp still does. To the German, football is more than a white tactics board. It is more than assembling a unit of machinations to be the best. Football is the moments off the pitch, football is leadership and influence.
To Klopp, Jordan Henderson is likely the dressing room’s first port of call. Virgil van Dijk is the commander on the pitch, the one who organises everyone around him, who barks orders and demands an audience. But Henderson was the one who collected his team and unfurled a banner in support of Liverpool fan Sean Cox at the Stadio Olimpico following Liverpool’s semi-final demolition of AS Roma.
The purchases of Naby Keita and Fabinho demonstrate that Klopp is not blind to the deficiencies of his midfield, but Henderson’s new contract demonstrates that a pristine starting midfield isn’t all that Klopp needs.
No, the German needs his leaders. The man who Trent-Alexander Arnold labelled as a “mentor”, the point of contact for all new signings, the man whose influence in Melwood is seemingly as important as anything he can do on the pitch. He needs his Sebastian Kehl – he always has.
The renewal of contracts should be taken with a pinch of salt these days – perhaps Henderson’s value is simply being protected for the day when Klopp believes he doesn’t need him, but as of right now, Jordan Henderson is his captain.