From the day he signed, Jordan Henderson has been picked at like the carcass of an animal tactically placed in one of Jeremy Wade’s terrifyingly dull runs of River Monsters. From your average Joe on twitter to Sir Alex Ferguson in his own autobiography, virtually everyone in the football world has taken a swipe at Henderson in the last couple of years. Not any more though.
The ex-England under-21s captain joined the Reds from Sunderland in a deal reportedly worth somewhere between 16 and 20 million pounds. Making a total of 79 appearances for the Black Cats in which he scored 5 goals, Henderson was scouted and statistically analysed by Damien Comolli to the point where the Frenchman seemed to know everything from his crossing accuracy to his shoe size.
After his first season at Anfield, one may have been left to wonder whether he was actually signed just because the (spare) shoes fit, or whether he did indeed have any significant future that could be trained into him one way or another. It’s fair to say that whilst Henderson didn’t have an awful season under King Kenny, it certainly wasn’t brilliant, as he scored only twice, assisted once, and made notably less chances than what he was signed for.
So what changed? Dalglish was shipped out by the Americans, and in came Brendan Rodgers, perhaps one of the few remaining people to believe Henderson had it in him to become a fantastic player.
Rodgers joined a club with an ageing, over-payed, underachieving team and his first job was to instill his mentality on the side, and shape it how he wanted. Many players left, a couple came in, and an offer was received which had Brendan and Jordan sit for perhaps their most important chat, what Jordan himself may look upon now as a pivotal point in his career. Rodgers offered Henderson the chance to leave, or the chance to stay and become a better player under him. And in the Northern Irishman’s own words: “I got the response I wanted. He told me that he wanted to stay here and fight.”
And fight he has. In Rodgers’ first season in charge of the Anfield outfit, Henderson played many games less than he did under Dalglish. However Rodgers insisted it was beneficial, and that his attitude showed him in the right direction, stating that Henderson “invested time into learning the game when he wasn’t playing so much”. It seems to have paid off.
Jordan Henderson now represents much of what Brendan Rodgers has brought to the club and the mentality he is trying to instil. Now vice (and seemingly next in line) captain to Steven Gerrard, the Wearside raised shit-house has added not only quality but responsibility to his game after what could certainly be described as a rather flat start to his Liverpool career. His work rate and attitude have remained constant, and under the coaching from Brendan Rodgers we can see that he is developing into quite some player. Tactically he is much more intelligent, and he’s trusted week in week out to play in the heart of Rodgers’ coveted midfield. He has developed an eye for a pass, more confidence and a more efficient nature, showing he can star for the Reds on a consistent basis. Already this season he’s assisted more than in the entirety of last, and he’s shown an increased pass completion percentage. He’s wiser and more conservative on the ball, but he takes smart risks when going forward.
Defensively he is a much better player too, this season showing that he can position himself well in an organised set up, and that he is more than capable of pressing how Brendan Rodgers wants his team to do so. He’s shown willing and versatility in playing different positions – such as right wing back – and most notably, he is showing signs of being a master of the transition, knowing where to press to and for how long, rather than running so much he spends a match drawing comparisons with the energizer bunny on steroids.
What’s next for Henderson? During the decline of Steven Gerrard, the general consensus is that the team tick over slightly better without him (but don’t tell anyone, they’re usually unwilling to accept the fact). Now Jordan has the chance to step up yet another level. Should he continue to improve, adding – most importantly – goals to his game to compliment his determined, efficient style, he could well lead a successful Liverpool side into a new era. He has the desire to improve, the manager to help him, and now it’s evident that he can push on and be worth every penny that Liverpool spent on him.