I’m a Liverpool fan. I’m biased. However, there needs to be something said about Jordan Henderson. He is a player that people love to talk about, both in a positive and negative way. To some, he’s brilliant. To others, he’s one of the worst players to wear an England shirt. How can a player be so loved by some, and despised by others?
So I want to begin by saying this: Every Liverpool manager since Henderson signed has started him.
That begs the question, do fans (who likely don’t watch him every week) know more than the likes of Klopp, Rodgers and Kenny Dalglish?
Do you get to captain a Champions League final side if you aren’t very good?
Do you get to captain your country if you aren’t very good? And before that, the U21 team? Henderson has represented England at Euro 2012 and 2016, and the 2014 FIFA World Cup, before starting the first two games of this current World Cup in Russia.
And it’s safe to say he has started very well. Personally, I struggle to think of another central midfielder who has started better. Possibly Toni Kroos.
And it’s nice to see Henderson receive a large amount of praise for his international performances (I’ve had plenty of texts from non-Liverpool fans expressing their surprise at the way he’s played).
However, I still read and hear the old common criticism that has been levelled at him throughout his career: he is just a sideways passer and has no quality on the ball. Eric Dier should be starting for England.
So, firstly, let’s start by saying every single midfielder passes sideways at some stage. Some even make a living off it, known as the player who knits the team together. Keeping the ball ticking is a vital part of the defensive midfielder job. However, this criticism is just not true. Against Tunisia in England’s opener, Henderson was a standout performer, starting many of the opening excellent England attacks with pinpoint, long-range passes forward (some could say Gerrard-style), and almost netting a spectacular volley from range.
Following the game, the likes of Frank Lampard, Danny Murphy, Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand all rightly praised Henderson’s performance.
In game two, in the 6–1 thrashing of Panama, Henderson was once again an imperial presence in the central role. His expansive passing and leadership abilities really showing (ran 10.6 km, 1km more than any other player, completed 91% of passes, won all four aerial duels and wasn’t dispossessed once).
Even away from his current international performances, the common perception just doesn’t stack up.
Surprising, right? Not for many Liverpool fans. The notion of Henderson only passing sideways is utter rubbish, mostly made by people who don’t watch him play.
The case for Henderson over someone like Emre Can was always his ability to move the ball quicker and injecting pace into attacks. When at his best, he fizzes first time passes forward to the attackers. Even when he’s not on top form, which often coincides with injury spells, he is still a great mover of the ball.
His constant criticism remains unexplained. Personally, I think he still suffers from the Gerrard comparison. I think people unrealistically expect him to be some sort of Alonso-Gerrard love-child, while at the same time maintaining his physical performance and high-press. What I’d argue with anyone is he has become a leader and a shining example for those around him. Rarely have I seen a player carry themselves so well. And, mistakes aside, he became incredibly close to lifting the Champions League trophy, which would have penned his name into the history books.
I’ll wrap up with one question — what is it about Henderson that fans don’t get? Why is he so vilified? He is an English player with a fantastic attitude (who has been through a lot and emerged stronger) and has some brilliant attributes. We should be cherishing players like him, rather than chastising him for keeping the ball ticking over.
Yes, he has had bad games, and injuries have meant it hasn’t all been rosy, but right now Liverpool and England are a lot better with him than without. Gone are his all-action days under Rodgers. His presence now is one of leadership. Commanding, physical and controlling.
Let’s not forget the telling impact his red card against Man City had at the end of the season had on the 2013/14 title bid… And that season was followed up with 14 assists and seven goals.
So, for me, his latest international appearances are no surprise, and it’s about time fellow England fans jumped on board. After all, this is a man who dominated against Man City, Roma and Porto this season. A man who led a very young Liverpool team to a Champions League final.
The narrative around Henderson just doesn’t hold up. What does he need to do to actually get some universal recognition?