Jordan Henderson has become a vital cog in the England machine. Sir Alex Ferguson was known to study a player’s character as well as his ability when weighing up whether to buy him. There is no doubt about it, Manchester United could do with a figure like Henderson today.
England fans last week voted Henderson their Player of the Year. Considering 2019 was the breakout year in international football for Raheem Sterling, who scored eight goals in nine internationals, that really is an impressive achievement for Henderson. In the mix too, as always, was Harry Kane – scorer of an incredible 12 goals from just eight Euro 2020 qualifiers.
“Underappreciated at times. He’s such an important player for us and has been for the last couple of managers.”Gareth Southgate on Jordan Henderson
For Henderson, the era of Jürgen Klopp has been one that bears delicious fruits. The Sunderland academy graduate was improving steadily under Brendan Rogers, who made him Liverpool’s permanent captain following the departure of Steven Gerrard in 2015.
But Klopp demands high standards from all of his players. Henderson has improved hugely in this time, responding to often over-the-top criticism from fans about his safe sideways passing.
Today, Henderson is a risk-taker, capable of unlocking packed defences with an intelligent through-ball or a precise long pass. England have already benefited, with Henderson’s tireless attitude and stamina at the 2018 World Cup making up for Gareth Southgate’s choice to employ just one holding midfielder. Henderson didn’t need a partner; he was that good.
The likes of Eric Dier and later Declan Rice and Harry Winks have filtered through into the senior team, but rarely have any of them threatened Henderson’s place in the Three Lions’ starting XI long-term.
Fabio Capello first capped Jordan Henderson in 2010. The 29-year-old has since gone on to amass over 50 England caps, featuring in every tournament since and including Euro 2012. But as Gareth Southgate’s England team gets younger and younger, Henderson has remained a constant. He still does his scurrying around in the middle of the park, but with more thought, more nous and more impact than when he broke through at the Stadium of Light as an apprentice.
Only Raheem Sterling has more caps than Jordan Henderson in the current England team.
Jordan Henderson has become an economist’s dream – an efficient footballer, skilled in progressing his football team and ensuring he doesn’t waste energy. His positional awareness is second to none, and his appetite to receive the ball in all areas of the field helps Liverpool and particularly England beat at the right intensity. Henderson keeps England just ticking over.
In the last year, he has lifted the Champions League, the Super Cup and most recently the Club World Cup. He, like Liverpool and (in a less silverware-laden way) England, is becoming a serial winner.
The centre-back pairing that Southgate opts for come the summer still remains a mystery. Unclear too is whether Marcus Rashford, if indeed fit, will dislodge Jadon Sancho’s place in the team of not. And yet Jordan Henderson kept his place and established himself as a near-nailed-on starter.
England are going to have a lot of the ball at the European Championships, especially during the group stages. Henderson is exactly the kind of workmanlike midfielder that will be pivotal to controlling and dictating the tempo of play. Controlling big games is something the Three Lions have failed to manage throughout the generations. The most important victory of the Southgate era, over Spain in October 2018, was a win secured through clinical counter-attacks rather than steady possession.
It goes without saying that Henderson sees more of the ball when he is playing… but England see more of the ball when plays too.
Gareth Southgate’s vice-captain wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s a player maximising his ability and forging a legacy as the best midfielder England can offer since the so-called Golden Generation.