Liverpool’s captain is now the longest serving player at the club, yet has fast become the Anfield boo-boy. Are these jeers justified? Luke Barry investigates
You can’t help but feel sorry for Jordan Henderson. Since arriving at Anfield from Sunderland six years ago, the midfielder has developed into a senior pro and and has earned the honour of being Liverpool’s captain. With Steven Gerrard now managing the U19 side and the pressure mounting from his own supporters each match-day, should the 27-year-old feel hard done by this apparent lack of appreciation?
The statistics make for grim reading. With their skipper in the side the Reds have won just 34% of their games, meaning they’ve won 68% of matches where Henderson hasn’t started.
It would be naive to take these statistics too seriously, however. Raw stats like this don’t examine a whole range of external factors, such as the opposition or the rest of the squad’s performance.
It’s hard to disagree though that the England international has struggled to hit the same form he did before he suffered a chronic heel ache – or Plantar Fascitis for you medical experts – back in 2015.
The injury isn’t totally healable, meaning Henderson is having to play out the rest of his career with a left foot that at worst can cause him serious jib and distraction. This is bound to have a knock-on effect on his performances at times.
One of the major criticisms ‘Hendo’ faces is his passing ability, which is bizarre given the range he has in his locker. Sections of the fan-base claim he’s too predictable, always playing sideways balls and never progressing forward. It’s likely that these fans have forgotten to consult the facts. Henderson’s passing success rate is well above 80% for the season, and he has the same number of assists as Wijnaldum in the Premier League this term.
The other thing to bare in mind is it isn’t Henderson’s job to create goals. He is a central midfield player, not an attacker. Having said that, his creative flair and significance going forward isn’t quite it used to be. Think the incredible long range strike at Stamford Bridge last season and the decisive curler against Manchester City in 2014/15.
Defensively there are cries from some corners that he isn’t astute enough. However, his average tackles per game of 1.9 this season is higher than Emre Can (1.7), Dejan Lovren (1) and Joel Matip (1.4) from Liverpool and Nemanja Matic (1.7) of Manchester United and Eric Dier (1.5) of Tottenham Hotspur.
His blocks of 0.2 compare well with Can and Lovren too. Even if such worries still arise, Anfield-bound Naby Keita looks worthy of relieving Henderson of this pressure a little with a tackle ratio of 3 a game that would rival anyone in Europe.
One thing that can’t be disputed though is Henderson’s work ethic. The next time you watch Liverpool play, keep your eye on number 14 for five to ten minutes. I guarantee that at least eight times out of 10 Henderson is the first man to close down an opponent on the ball, or track back to fulfil his defensive duties. He is the perfect engine for Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing football.
Klopp said something very recently that was very interesting regarding his captain, claiming that ‘Hendo’ has “the hardest job in football.”
Why? He has taken over the baton from a true Liverpool great: Steven Gerrard.
In Gerrard’s later years, Henderson was in essence learning directly from him. As vice-captain, the two almost won the league together in midfield, and with Gerrard moving on to LA, the stage was set for Henderson to take over. But such comparisons with Gerrard are, to a large extent, absurd and incredibly unfair.
A talent the size of Stevie’s comes around once in a blue moon, so to expect Henderson to immediately replicate Gerrard’s achievements is delusional. His overall contribution isn’t any less, despite it appearing that way with his fewer goals and assists. He helps the team out in other ways.
Sure, you can’t necessarily rely on him to be the man to individually win the game for his club, but Liverpool have four incredible attackers capable of doing that and more.
Daniel Sturridge is in a similar situation to his team mate. The English striker was simply electric when he first signed for the Reds back in January 2013, but ever since the departure of strike partner Luis Suarez a year and a half later, a catalogue of leg injuries have hampered his progress and left him without the same confidence or burst of energy he once had.
Henderson is much the same. Ultimately he isn’t quite as influential or powerful as he once was pre-injury, but is still a very capable leader. Many will claim he is not a guaranteed starter but with Klopp’s system of rotation not even top scorer Mo Salah is. Henderson’s contribution is underrated by so many, largely because he’s not quite as good as Gerrard was and he performs a rather unexciting role. Both of which aren’t his fault.
It’s time for his own fans to give him a break. He can play a very important part in Liverpool’s future.