‘O Captain my Captain’- Jordan Henderson: The enduring legacy of a modern Liverpool Legend | THT Opinions

Jordan Henderson ends his journey at Anfield as arguably the club’s best Liverpool captain in the Premier League era.

When a youthful Jordan Henderson walked into Melwood on a sunny summer day in 2011, few would have envisaged they were taking a first look at a player who would go on to join the pantheon of club legends.

12 years and 492 appearances later, the 33-year-old leaves a man, having not just cemented his standing in club folklore but also having led the Merseysiders to every single major trophy. In fact, he is the second Liverpool skipper after the iconic Emlyn Hughes to have led the club to every major trophy available.

Having come up at Sunderland, the expectations of donning the Liverpool jersey were always going to be heavy. Henderson struggled in those early days and was considered an example of a poor investment made by erstwhile Sporting Director Damien Commolli. The Frenchman backed by then manager Kenny Dalglish bet big on the English star, and a decade later, it would be an understatement to admit that they have been vindicated.

Unfair comparison!

In many ways, the veteran midfielder’s story in red is worthy of being made into a movie. He went from almost being sold to Fulham for a loss to being handed the Liverpool armband following Steven Gerrard’s exit. This ability to persevere through difficult moments and hold things together both individually and collectively would become a trademark under him during the Jurgen Klopp era.

Following in the Huyton Hammer’s shoes was always going to be a poisoned chalice. But walk Henderson did and even went on to outdo Gerrard’s accomplishments as a skipper in the years to come. It is an uncomfortable conversation for most Liverpool fans who often put Gerrard on a pedestal, perhaps even over-signifying his achievements.

But bias is to be expected in sports, and Gerrard was a local lad living the dream. Henderson, for all intents and purposes, was the outsider aiming to carve his name in club history. There is little argument that man to man, Gerrard was the far superior player, and Henderson comes in a comfortable second in terms of individual ability.

That comparison is far closer when it comes to their respective stints as captains. Gerrard has time and again rescued the Reds single-handedly carving himself a plethora of moments that will live on in history. The image of him calling upon his teammates to fight after scoring the header in Istanbul or breaking West Ham United’s hearts in the FA Cup final in Cardiff are noteworthy moments in club football folklore let alone Liverpool history.

Jordan Henderson ends his journey at Liverpool as arguably the club's best captain in the Premier League era.
Steven Gerrard passed the Liverpool gauntlet to Jordan Henderson. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Henderson lacks the highlight reel, but the difference he made in the middle of the park laid the foundations for Jurgen Klopp to put together one of the finest footballing teams in recent times. A hard-working energetic presence, the midfield star made use of his athleticism and energy to dominate the middle of the park, giving the more illustrious names upfront a platform to work their magic. He was not averse to getting stuck in either, famously giving Diego Costa the stare-down in a clash against Chelsea.

His ability to get up and go again was carried over to the team as a whole as the Reds kept rising repeatedly against Pep Guardiola’s oil-infused juggernauts. One seminal moment includes his lung-busting run that led to the Reds’ opener at Anfield against Barcelona in 2018. It might not receive the same adulation as Gerrard’s opener at the Ataturk but helped swing the momentum in Liverpool’s favour as they pulled off one of European football’s greatest comebacks.

Georginio Wijnaldum and Divock Origi rightfully take home the credit for the goals scored that night. But the energy and organisation that Henderson added to the midfield snuffed the breath out of Barcelona. In spite of playing without stalwarts Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, Henderson and his men ran their opponents into the ground. Once again, his impact lacks the nous to headline highlight reels, but the impact cannot be denied.

He took his game a step higher the following season as Liverpool ended their 30-year wait for the league title. If the football pitch was the Earth, Henderson was water as he covered every glade of grass, running his lungs out to help the Reds over the line.

A standout moment from the campaign was his equaliser against Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield, another moment that swung the tie in his team’s favour. After all, having your captain win the FWA Footballer of the Year Award in a title-winning campaign speaks for itself. He also provided the killer pass to put Sadio Mane through in the 2019 FIFA World Club Cup final against Flamengo. By that point, the Hendo shuffle had become a norm at major tournaments as Jurgen Klopp and co. went from glory to glory. Henderson was no Gerrard, but it takes a special type of player to become a regular in Klopp’s all-conquering XI.

The German manager is a proper judge of a player’s value and could not have asked for a better skipper than Henderson. Unassuming to put it kindly, the Englishman was not just content to let others take the spotlight but also worked his socks off when needed. He also kept a low profile and never got into any unnecessary antics unlike say other celebrated captains like John Terry or Granit Xhaka.

In many ways, Henderson was a model professional who embodied the values and ethics of the club. He was a reliable teammate to his peers and someone to look up to for the young players. Having him as the club’s leader on the field helped translate Klopp’s teachings to perfection.

'O Captain my Captain'- Jordan Henderson: The enduring legacy of a modern Liverpool Legend | THT Opinions.
Former Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson led by example (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Henderson almost led the club to a quadruple in the 2021/22 season in what can be termed his last great season for the Reds. Age was catching up, and it was only a matter of time before he would have to enjoy a reduced role. He spent less time as a starter in the 2022/23 campaign and continued to find favour as the club’s leader.

Change is inevitable in sports, and given his current standing amongst Liverpool’s new-look midfield, few can fault him for looking at a new challenge. Henderson is far from a regular starter for the Reds and, given his age, is well within his rights to earn a final payday at Al Ettifaq.

A suitable target?

Perhaps in line with his career, Henderson continues to draw flak for moving to the Middle East given the region’s stand against LGBTQ rights. The former Liverpool skipper was a vocal proponent of equal rights. So his decision to take his talents to Saudi Arabia has found few takers.

Perhaps it is more accurate to claim that it is being used to target him when several other high-profile players continue to be let off. Henderson is often non-confrontational in the media and one could argue he is seen as a soft target by groups that are missing the point. It is perhaps telling that newscasters who had no problems reporting on the World Cup in Qatar are now virtue signalling Henderson for so-called ‘double standards’

The English international is not the face of the LGBTQ movement and has remained a vocal supporter of equal rights. One could argue that he was better off staying silent rather than advocating for every individual’s freedom to choose the life they want. If the 33-year-old moving to Saudi Arabia is what is setting the movement back, serious questions need to be asked of leaders and politicians who can actually enforce legislation but avoid doing so.

Jordan Henderson was Jurgen Klopp's reliable skipepr at Liverpool.
Jordan Henderson was Jurgen Klopp’s reliable skipper at Liverpool. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

The murmurs regarding Henderson are unlikely to die down anytime soon. But by now, the midfielder should be used to having his own army of critics. To put it into context, Gerrard or the quintessential good guy N’Golo Kante don’t quite get half the abuse Henderson does despite taking up roles in Saudi Arabian football. His achievements in the sport speak for themselves and to quote Anton Ego from Ratatouille – “The bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

History will certainly be kinder to Henderson, who was also the face of footballers’ support for the NHS when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. And that is just the tip of the iceberg for the charitable work he has been a part of away from the pitch.

A slice of history

The 33-year-old leaves Anfield having donned the armband for 268 games across all competitions. In the 131-year-old history of Liverpool FC, only four players, namely Donald McKinlay, Emlyn Hughes, Ron Yeats and Steven Gerrard, have led the club more times.

Henderson’s ability can be replaced, either by bringing in new players or shifting tactics and formations. What Klopp and co. could struggle to substitute is the Englishman’s quiet yet resolute leadership. This vacuum needs to be filled, and it remains to be seen who will be entrusted with the armband next.

Henderson led the Reds to a UEFA Champions League, A Premier League title, A League Cup, A FA Cup, A UEFA Super Cup, the FA Community Shield and the FIFA Club World Cup. In fact, no other Liverpool skipper in Premier League history has led the side to more silverware. He is tied with Emlyn Hughes in club history as the skipper who has won the most silverware in Red.

In a world obsessed with flamboyant and charismatic players, he was not one to capture the spotlight. But his dedication, his unwavering commitment to the team, spoke volumes. Some fans, perhaps swayed by bias, failed to see Henderson’s true worth. They were quick to point out his imperfections, eager to criticise rather than celebrate his countless contributions.

Henderson’s departure echoes a scene from the cult classic, ‘Dead Poets Society,’ where the departure of a beloved figure left a sombre aura. But in the midst of sorrow, it was his teammates, both current and former, who stood on the desks to bid him goodbye. Their actions spoke louder than any words, a testament to the man they had come to respect and admire.

For those who chose to turn a blind eye, history will paint a different picture. Time has a way of revealing the true worth of individuals, and Henderson’s legacy is etched in stone. As the years pass, he will be remembered not only for his skills on the pitch but for the intangible qualities that set him apart – his leadership, his unwavering spirit, and the sheer determination that lifted his team to great heights.

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