But after an excellent domestic campaign, in which he was the lung-busting engine room that fueled Liverpool's title challenge, he now looks set to continue his club partnership alongside Steven Gerrard on the grandest stage of all. Goal takes a look at how he is shaping up ahead of this summer's finals.
|SEASON 2013-14 ANALYSIS
Henderson was something of a pariah for the first two seasons of his Liverpool career. He was seen as a rather limited, overpriced midfielder that, along with fellow perceived duds Charlie Adam, Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing, typified a poor recruitment strategy and the decline of the Merseysiders’ standing and style.
But while others were ushered towards the Anfield exit door, Henderson, still just 23-years-old, was given the chance to grow and develop under the coaching of Brendan Rodgers. Now, he offers more than just industry and energy in midfield, but control, goal threat and genuine quality. So much so that his absence at the end of the season, having been ever-present previously, contributed significantly to Liverpool’s failed title bid.
The former Sunderland man was sent off against Manchester City and in the Reds’ three subsequent games without him they conceded seven goals, lost at home to Chelsea (only their second home defeat of the season, and the second time they failed to score) and threw away a three-goal lead at Crystal Palace.
Henderson has firmly established himself as a crucial first-team player for Liverpool; he’s the fabled engine room of the midfield, the legs that Steven Gerrard can no longer quite provide. Alongside his work rate he also brings stability on the ball (only the Anfield skipper averaged more passes per game) and recorded as many assists (7) as Philippe Coutinho. “He’s the most improved player in the Premier League this season,” remarked Rodgers – it’s hard to disagree.
|PREVIOUS TOURNAMENT EXPERIENCE
Henderson’s senior international tournament experience amounts to just 39 minutes of action at Euro 2012. The Liverpool man was a late call-up for the injured Frank Lampard and, unsurprisingly, was used only sparingly, making two substitute appearances against first France, in the group stages, and then Italy in extra-time of the quarter-final penalty shoot-out defeat.
After that brief outing against the Azzurri, Hodgson did not pick Henderson for the following 17 months. He finally returned to the England fold in November of last year, making substitute appearances against Chile and Germany.
He does, however, have significant experience with England’s Under-21 side. In 2011 he started all three group games at the European Championships, though Stuart Pearce’s Young Lions failed to win a single game. Two years later, at the same tournament, he captained the side – though this time they fared even worse, failing to pick up a single point and scoring just once to finish below Norway and Israel.
|LIKELY ROLE IN THE SQUAD
It is testament to just how much Henderson has improved that he is now considered the player most likely to partner Gerrard in England’s World Cup opener, despite having made just five appearances during Hodgson’s two-year reign, only one of which was from the start.
His rise in reputation came too late to play a part in qualifying, where Lampard and Michael Carrick usually sat alongside the Three Lions skipper, and it is two years since he played a competitive tie for the senior side.
But at club level, Henderson has proven to be the perfect foil for Gerrard, and his youthful exuberance and tireless work-rate make him a great weapon for the searing, draining heat of Brazil, and particularly the energy-sapping humidity of Manaus. This is one occasion when England’s tendency to produce athletes over footballers could be beneficial.
His pre-existing relationship with Gerrard, and the horde of Liverpool stars also expected to start, looks set to earn him a key role in this summer’s tournament.
Furthermore, if any of England’s players are at all reticent to working with sports psychologist Dr Steve Peters, than they need look no further than Henderson for an example of how useful the shrink can be. “I’ve been speaking to Steve for exactly a year now and have felt massive benefits from it,” said the midfielder at the turn of the year.