This past week marked the nine-year anniversary of Jordan Henderson’s transfer from Sunderland to Liverpool.
From a skinny right-sided midfielder — who admitted to being daunted at sharing the same midfield as Steven Gerrard — to a colossal leader of men, Henderson has come of age at Anfield and is the ideal player to lead Jurgen Klopp’s team on the pitch.
It is by no means an attempt to demean the energetic 29-year-old — anyone who wins 55 England caps and captains a world, European and soon to be English cup and league winning sides is clearly a player of supreme ability — but Henderson’s leadership — perhaps more so than his ability on the pitch — contributes massively to the culture of hard work and professionalism that forms the foundation of Liverpool’s dressing room culture.
Not born with the footballing talent silver spoon in his mouth — like the way the likes of Gerrard were — the number 14 has had to work extremely hard — hurdling several obstacles, such as being offered up as potential bait for Fulham’s Clint Dempsey in 2012, along the way — to advance his career to it’s current, lofty status.
Having a captain who had to work like a Trojan — and has to sustain that level of toil to sustain his level and keep his place in arguably the world’s best team — creates an environment where professionalism and maximum effort are the rule. To this end, Henderson — and similarly, James Milner, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane — is the steam that powers the piston’s that power the engine that is the best Liverpool team since the 1980s.
You won’t see many horrendously narrated — with the monotonous chimes of royalty-free dubstep echoing — compilations of the Liverpool captain on Youtube. His subtle, no-frills role in the team — where he is often tasked to keep the ball ticking over with short, simple passes and provide a defensive backbone to let other players flex their attacking muscles — doesn’t lend itself to blockbuster videos. But his function in the team is deeper than what meets the eye — although anyone can see that he performs his specific tasks in midfield to the nth degree, otherwise Klopp – probably the best coach in the world – would not keep selecting him — and the Mackem’s vocalness, never say die attitude — best seen by playing through injury in last season’s 4-0 Champions League semi-final destruction of Barcelona — helps cajole the best out of his teammates.
The young players in the squad — the Harvey Elliott’s, the Ki-Jana Hoever’s and the Curtis Jones — and some of the established pros, can see from their skipper’s example the standard of dedication it takes to thrive at a club of the ilk of the Reds. Coupled with their natural technical ability and tactical apprehension — traits that are next to useless without the bonding element of application and zeal that ties everything together and creates the full footballing package, see Mario Balotelli, for instance — the promising duo have the perfect example to model their off-field behaviour on.
As assistant manager, Pepijn Lijnders, repeatedly says, “talent needs models” and in Henderson — along with the other members of Liverpool’s “leadership group”, Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum and Virgil van Dijk — the Reds players — young, old or in between — have the ideal lead-by-example captain that can help them forge an era of success at Anfield.