Liverpool won their 18th league title at the end of April 1990. Less than two months later Jordan Henderson was born. 30 years later ‘Hendo’ captained the club to their 19th title. This extends an impressive 12 months for the Sunderland-born lad. He now has the Champions League, World Club Cup and European Super Cup winners medals to display his Premier League one alongside. No other player in the history of the game has amassed that haul over a 12-month period.
He was voted England player of the year 2019. The first player to win the award at Senior and U21 level.
Yet he was ridiculed when he first came to Anfield. He was ridiculed when he was first picked for England. There were those who questioned his ability when given the captaincy of Liverpool. He has quietly gone about proving all the doubters wrong.
February 2012 Henderson was substituted during the Carling Cup Final win over Cardiff City. He looked gutted to be taken off. I remember writing a piece at the time as his expression suggested to me how much he cared about his own performance. He looked like he felt he’d let himself, his team, his family and the supporters down. Years later we know how passionate he is about the game and how determined he is to make a success of his career.
As recently as last season there were still those around the country who questioned his ability. “You’ll never win the League with Jordan Henderson” was a moniker labelled at the player and his club. Now the only winners’ medals he hasn’t picked up at club level are the FA Cup and Europa League.
Kenny Dalglish signed him from Sunderland in the summer of 2011. The fee, £16m, raised eyebrows and he was one of a number of players to join that summer. He made his debut against his old club at Anfield, alongside other debutants, Stewart Downing, Jose Enrique and Charlie Adam
His first season at Anfield saw him make more appearances than any other player, yet he consistently looked lost. He was being played out of position. At Sunderland he was more of a central midfield player, yet at Anfield Steven Gerrard ruled that part of the pitch. It was Gerrard who Hendo replaced as club captain in 2015. Ever since then he was driven his side on in a different way to Stevie.
He’s not the commanding, dominating figure Gerrard was. He doesn’t often play 50-yard passes, he hasn’t a library of stunning goals from outside the area. But spend a game watching him and you’ll soon discover what he’s all about. He brings players into the game, is the constant link in the passing play. His pressing high up the pitch is often a catalyst for others to swarm the opposition and win back possession. His energy around the pitch will often show others the value of keeping going. Ironic to think it was one Sir Alex Ferguson who said he couldn’t run properly.
He strikes you as a person who is warmed more by other’s success around him, than his own. As soon as the title was won he dedicated it to Stevie.
His programme notes for the first game at Anfield for the 2019/20 League Champions were telling as he thanked the managers he’d played under at the club.
“Firstly, Sir Kenny Dalglish. One of the things that set me off on the night we won it was seeing Kenny on TV immediately after and how emotional he was. Along with Damien Comolli, to whom I will also be forever grateful, Kenny is the reason I got the opportunity to play for this amazing club.”
“I can still remember, clear as day, the first conversation we had and the first meeting we had. I still remember those first training sessions.”
“Sir Kenny taught me how special this club is and that when you are privileged to represent it on the pitch, you carry a great responsibility. I loved every minute of playing for Sir Kenny and he taught me more than I can explain in words.”
“The gaffer said that Kenny is our ‘soul’ and that is such a great description. To know he is in the stands supporting us – home and away – drives us on as a team. When he is on our plane coming back from away games, every player wants to shake his hand.”
“I can never repay what he did for me, but I hope the joy we have bought him on the pitch, in the last few seasons especially, has gone some way to show the gratitude he deserves.”
“Secondly, is Brendan Rodgers. I think on the outside Brendan probably isn’t given the credit he deserves for the role he played in our journey as a club. But I know on the inside, from people who know and understand, it’s hugely appreciated. You only have to listen to our gaffer now speak.”
“When Jürgen says one of the biggest things that attracted him to come to Liverpool in the first place was because it was an outstanding team, in great shape, you realise how important Brendan was.”
“He made me captain and it was a brave choice. I was young still and I’m sure he could have picked other candidates who were more experienced. Whatever he saw in me that made him think I was worthy of that honour I don’t know, but I couldn’t be more thankful.”
“Again, Brendan is a person who invested a lot of time and energy into me as a professional and I learned so much from him and his staff at the time.”
“Thirdly, is Steven Gerrard. It’s impossible to sum up the importance of Stevie to the modern Liverpool and what we are achieving together now. If you speak to every player in our dressing room – from the oldest to the youngest – they’ll all tell you that following in the footsteps of Steven Gerrard was a massive factor in wanting to sign for this club. It was for me, and I was lucky to play alongside him for club and country.”
“Looking back now, as a player, you cannot get any better education than being in the same team as Stevie. Everything about him was inspirational.”
“Again, turning to the gaffer’s words, this Liverpool was ‘built on Stevie’s legs’ and Stevie’s shoulders. He is the benchmark for any player coming to this club today. The way he handled pressure. The way he protected the team and the club. The way he led and the example he set. The quality he had. Wow.”
“When we won the Champions League in Madrid and we went back to the team hotel for the party, someone told me Stevie was in the room. It took me ages to find him, because he was tucked away in a corner. He told me it was because it was the current players’ night and he was there as a supporter, feeling privileged to see the lads celebrate.”
“That sums him up, but whether Stevie likes it or not – for so many of us in this current team – his contribution to what we have achieved can’t be underestimated. He set the standards we all work day in and day out to reach. His values and his example drives so many of us on. The club we have today – with the support and the backing – is because of him.”
His words on Rodgers are also poignant as the Northern Irishman considered a swap deal for Henderson with Fulham’s Clint Dempsey just months after taking over in 2012. On the eve of a Europa League tie with Hearts he told Hendo about the offer from Fulham. Hendo admitted he shed tears at the thought of leaving the club, eventually vowing to fight for his place. Less than seven years later he was lifting the Champions League in front of adoring Reds.
Sky pundit, Gary Neville, has recently spoken of how he believes Hendo will go on from here. He believes he’s just growing into the role of leader. This league title could be the inspiration for him to grow further as a player and as a man.
He spearheaded the ‘Players Together’ campaign in setting up a fund to raise millions of pounds for the NHS during the Coronavirus pandemic. Bournemouth skipper, Simon Francis explained
“Henderson called each of us captains individually to explain his donation plan and everyone quickly got on board”
It’s a remarkable transformation and testament to the man’s determination to make it when all around him were doubting he would. A true inspiration for young players coming into the game.