The Remarkable Rise of Jordan Henderson

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In June 2011, 20-year-old Jordan Henderson was signed by struggling Liverpool from Sunderland. Breaking into the first team would be an obstacle for Henderson and earning the respect of the Liverpool faithful would take a very long time. Few would have thought of him becoming the future club captain, let alone leading the team to Premier League success. This is the story of the remarkable rise of the Liverpool number 14.

After a turbulent first season, Henderson would find himself close to being offloaded to Fulham by new manager Brendan Rodgers in 2012. The England international refused to be sold. This moment acted as an early indicator of Henderson’s never-say-die attitude which is clearly evident today. He continued to persevere and improve. Declining the offer to Fulham would eventually become a blessing to the club in the long term.

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In his early Liverpool years, Henderson had to prove himself. One pivotal moment in his evolution included a ‘bust-up’ with former teammate Luis Suarez. According to ex-Reds defender Glen Johnson, Suarez was responsible for pushing Henderson to breaking point after a training ground altercation. The mature way the England international stood up for himself earned not only the respect of Liverpool great Suarez but many of his teammates too. It was another sign that Henderson was a special talent whose hard-working mentality drove him to the heights he has reached today. It was a moment which showcased truly what today’s skipper is about: Grit. Determination. Heart.

The 2013-14 season saw Henderson become a mainstay in the team, playing 35 of the 38 League games. Liverpool’s one-hand grip on the title would prove to be useless as Henderson’s absence would play a decisive role in their shortcoming. Without Henderson’s influence, Liverpool lost two crucial showdowns against Chelsea and Crystal Palace. Ultimately, they conceded the title to rivals Manchester City. The unbearable wait for a Premier League trophy carried on.

With club legend Steven Gerrard’s departure in June 2015, Henderson was named Liverpool captain. Replacing an icon of Gerrard’s status and carrying on his legacy would be near impossible. Yet, this passing of the torch was imperative in sowing the seeds for Henderson’s ascent and the Jurgen Klopp era at Liverpool.

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Taking over from Rodgers in October 2015, charismatic German manager Jurgen Klopp entered the Liverpool family with a simple message: ‘change from doubters to believers’. Since his arrival, Klopp has revolutionised Liverpool’s playing style and the player who has arguably benefited the most from this is captain Henderson. Under Klopp, Henderson has transformed into a box-to-box engine who expertly controls the midfield. He is not necessarily a goal scorer à la Gerrard. Though thanks to the arrival of Brazilian defensive midfielder Fabinho, Henderson has been given the freedom to push further up the pitch where his incredibly long passing range can lead to devastating attacks. Henderson’s capacity to combine his defensive agility with his ability to unlock any back line in the attacking third has led to the creation of a powerhouse who bosses the midfield.

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May 2018 saw Henderson captain a new-look Liverpool side to the UEFA Champions League Final, with the deadly ‘red arrows’ leading the line (Mane, Firmino and Salah). Agonizingly, they were defeated 3-1 by Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid. However, the pain of Kiev would turn to elation in Madrid one year later. The skipper led the Reds to their sixth Champions League triumph, overcoming a spirited Spurs side in a 2-0 win. Henderson’s never-say-die attitude was yet again showcased when he ground through the pain from a first-half knock to lead his team to a miraculous 4-0 victory over Messi’s Barcelona. Klopp’s Liverpool edged into the final in arguably the most majestic comeback in European history. An unforgettable captain’s performance on an unforgettable night under the Anfield floodlights.

Success in the Champions League and a dominant 97-point runners-up league season marked the beginning of something special. In the 2019/20 season, Klopp and Henderson guided the side to the club’s fourth UEFA Super Cup, an English record. A gruelling campaign, the Reds won eight of the nine games they played in December, including two wins in Qatar which saw them win the FIFA Club World Cup for the first time in their history. The team overcame their biggest challenge of the season with the demanding festive schedule. Henderson’s hard-working mentality was highlighted as he powered through 292 minutes of game time in the space of eight days to not only lead his team to Club World Cup success, but also a convincing 4-0 victory away at title rivals Leicester. As we all know though, the Club World Cup would not be the only trophy Liverpool would lift for the first time ever this season.

Amassing 99 points, Liverpool deservedly won their first Premier League trophy this season, with a record number of games remaining (7). No team stood a chance, this was finally Liverpool’s year. And Henderson, regardless of injury, was present to perform the signature ‘Hendo-shuffle’ before lifting the coveted trophy which had eluded the club for 30 years. It was a satisfying moment for the Liverpool family, especially the captain, who after years of persistence, has finally earned the respect of the Liverpool faithful. His efforts for the team were deservedly recognised, being crowned LWA Player of the Year for his stellar performances this season.

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Superstars of the team such as Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold have been instrumental in the development of the Klopp dynasty. However, one cannot deny that Henderson has played a significant part in the growth of this side. Before the June restart, Liverpool’s win percentage in all competitions this season with the skipper playing was a staggering 80%, compared to just 61.5% without him. Henderson’s influence in the team is noticeable. He is the unsung hero of this special squad.

This season will go down in history as one of the most chaotic that supporters have ever witnessed due to COVID-19. The virus, which resulted in the league’s suspension for over three months, has tormented the world for the majority of 2020. The Liverpool captain has been instrumental in efforts to combat COVID-19, displaying his leadership mindset both on and off the pitch. In April, it was announced that Henderson was organising a coronavirus fund, approaching fellow Premier League captains, for the sake of raising millions of pounds for the NHS during these unprecedented times. Henderson has utilised his role as Liverpool captain to become an unquestionably positive inspiration for his country.

The Jordan Henderson Mural was unveiled this past week in Liverpool, with the words: ‘Anything is possible, never stop believing.’ If there’s anything the career of Jordan Henderson has taught us so far, it is those exact six words.

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Spanish & Portuguese BA student at the University of Southampton. Sports writer.

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