Newly appointed captain of Liverpool Jordan Henderson has garnered plaudits for both club and country since his arrival on Merseyside in 2011. However if we’re honest he cut rather a divisive figure while at Sunderland. The reason for this remains a mystery to those who were happy to be patient and watch a local lad realise his potential. However he has since blossomed while playing for Liverpool. Let’s have a look back over his time with us and try and explore why things worked out as they did.
When Steve Bruce arrived he used the Fencehouses midfielder on the right wing, moving him into centre due to his voracious energy and enthusiasm. It would be fair to say one of Henderson’s standout matches in the red and white came in the 3-0 annihilation of Chelsea in November 2010. An England call up was next up and Bruce told the press at the time,
"It is wonderful that Jordan is playing for England – he deserves it. Make no mistake he is that good. Everything about him is right. He is full of endeavour, young, hungry and the archetypal modern-day footballer, 6ft 2in and yet a marvellous athlete. He is also a level-headed kid which makes him a pleasure to work with."
So taking all of this into account why did Jordan not fully win over all SAFC supporters? Perhaps some of the blame can be levied at Steve Bruce? Frankly discontent hung over the Stadium of Light like a dark storm cloud during his reign. Fans became toxic towards the Geordie. Bruce was unable to come up with viable alternative strategies during games, relegation looked inevitable and some of us were baying for blood. Anyone caught in the cross fire was a casualty of war.
Henderson’s general youthful inexperience ignited the fury of those already incensed by Bruce’s abilities as a manager. Putting all the emotive feelings of the time behind us, the reality is now obvious. Patience was in short supply. Rightly or wrongly any player, local or not, hoping to get time to learn from mistakes while within the Bruce era wasn’t going to be afforded that luxury.
Arriving on Merseyside for around £20mil in 2011, we appeared split in our view of Henderson’s departure. A percentage of fans were happy with the huge fee received and in certain quarters Jack Colback was even deemed to be the better hope going forward. Others were frustrated that a Sunderland born product of the academy machine had left without maximising his potential. In hindsight and in trying to apply some balance, it’s recognised that the sums of money being offered to us were simply to good to refuse. In those circumstances it’s reasonable to be disappointed about the situation but it’s also logical that the club needed to accept the huge financial rewards on offer.
However Liverpool dawdled in their acceptance of Henderson, and Dalglish came under fire for spending big on a player that seemed to be unable to deliver. Brendan Rodgers took over in 2012 and matters appeared to get even worse with Clint Dempsey rumoured to be lined up as his replacement. Fulham looked like it would be Henderson’s next move. Speaking to the Liverpool Echo at the time Henderson said,
"When the manager told me I could go to Fulham it was a bit of a shock at first. What he said came as a sort of bolt from the blue. I worked really had to come to a club like Liverpool and I didn’t want to leave in a hurry."
Henderson began to get both the measure of the game and on a more consistent basis in the 2013/14 season. Finally he started to flourish and the 5-0 demolition of Tottenham was arguably his arrival on the big scene. Increasingly regular appearances on the international stage inflated his stock further too.
Those close to Henderson have described him as being constant in his dedication around the improvement of his game. Working with the Liverpool squad as he has done for a while now will surely have helped in this regard. However he should take a large dose of credit himself. He’s dismissed the pressures heaped upon him and filtered out the white noise of agents, supporters, and press that exists in and around the sport. This had to be ultimately his own doing, which takes an incredible strength of character particularly for one still so young. With these qualities it’s no wonder Henderson is now the captain of a team that have over the years become recognised as giant on the European stage.
It’s great to see a local lad work hard, seize the opportunities that come his way and be rewarded well for his efforts. Let’s hope Jordan Henderson returns at some stage to finish off what he started back home on Wearside.