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Jordan Henderson

Captain, leader, Liverpool legend: Humble Henderson deserving of Footballer of the Year prize

11:00 BST 24/07/2020
Henderson Liverpool trophy 2020
The midfielder has had his fair share of detractors over the years, but he has been an inspirational Reds skipper during their trophy-laden 13 months

So, how was your week?

If you are Jordan Henderson, the answer is ‘pretty good, thanks.’

Having lifted the Premier League trophy at Anfield on Wednesday, the Liverpool captain has his hands on another piece of silverware, having been named Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers' Association.

He becomes the 12th Reds player to win the award, having seen off stiff competition, most notably from the brilliant Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City. Team-mates Virgil van Dijk, Sadio Mane and Trent Alexander-Arnold, too, had strong claims, as did Leicester’s Jamie Vardy, the league’s leading goalscorer.

The bulk of the votes, though, went to a man who through sheer will and force of personality has achieved legendary status at Liverpool.

In the space of 13 months, Henderson has led his team to Champions League glory and Premier League success. He has lifted the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup for good measure, too. 

The 30-year-old has, in many ways, become the symbol of Jurgen Klopp’s side; driven, determined, selfless and relentlessly consistent. Never willing to admit defeat, and ready to put his ego aside for the good of his team. Humble, almost to a fault.

“As grateful as I am I don’t feel like I can accept this on my own,” he said, typically, in his acceptance speech.

“I accept it on behalf of this whole squad, because without them I’m not in a position to be receiving this honour. These lads have made me a better player – a better leader and a better person.

“If anything I hope those who voted for me did so partly to recognise the entire team’s contribution.”

OK, so he will not say it about himself, but his own contribution to Liverpool’s success has been seismic. 

This season alone, he has played as a number eight and a number six in Klopp’s midfield, and to a high standard too. In December he started as a centre-back in the Club World Cup semi-final against Monterrey in Qatar. Last season, against Leicester, he found himself filling in at right-back in place of the injured Alexander-Arnold. 

No fuss, no questions asked. That is Henderson. A big name and a big player, but low maintenance.

“He’s been criticised his whole career,” says Kevin Ball, who coached him as a teenager at Sunderland. 

“But only because he never does anything but put his team first. How many players will do the role he is asked to do, every single week, without complaint?”

Klopp agrees.

“If anyone who is with us doesn’t see the quality of Jordan Henderson, I can’t help him,” the Reds boss told reporters back in January. 

“Is he the perfect football player? No. Do I know anybody who is? No. But is he unbelievably important to us? Yes. He’s exceptional, he’s outstanding.”

It is not just on the field that his presence has been felt. Yes there have been big moments – a vital equaliser against Tottenham in October, eye-catching assists against Bournemouth, Norwich and, most crucially, Manchester City – and yes, from November to February he performed at an outstandingly high level as Liverpool took control of the Premier League and conquered the world over in Doha.

But his campaign, and indeed his career, has always been about more than just numbers. It is about influence, standards, personality. He has led Liverpool, through the darkness and into the light.

It is he, aided and abetted by his key lieutenants – Adam Lallana, James Milner, Van Dijk and Gini Wijnaldum – who sets the tone at Melwood on a daily basis. Liverpool’s training sessions are as competitive as most team’s matches, and much of that is down to their skipper.

His is the loudest voice, his approval is the one every young player seeks. “An angry man,” Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain calls him, but one who drags people with him. Are you ready to give everything? If you are, then follow me.

It was he who, during the coronavirus lockdown, took the lead in organising the #PlayersTogether initiative, which has seen Premier League footballers raise millions for the NHS and other associated causes. He became, according to Bournemouth skipper Simon Francis, “the captain of captains”, creating a WhatsApp group for the 20 Premier League skippers, leading Zoom calls to discuss donation plans and, in Francis’ words, “giving a great insight into his leadership skills.”

That side, the leadership, has developed naturally since he was named Liverpool captain in 2015, taking over from the legendary Steven Gerrard.

“It’s always the same way in life, people have to grow in new roles,” says Klopp. “He had to do that. It [being Liverpool captain] was the most difficult job you can have. After Stevie, whatever manner the person doing the job did it, it was going to be difficult.

“Hendo grew in that role, and now he is probably a role model for the next generation of Liverpool skippers. He became a man, age-wise, and he became a proper captain. After his career when he looks back, there are a lot of reasons why he should be proud.”

He is still criticised and doubted. Perhaps he always will be. He will never be Gerrard or Graeme Souness. He will never be De Bruyne. There are others who will excite more, score more, assist more, create more.

But here we are in 2020. Here we are. Jordan Henderson. Captain of Liverpool, champion of everything. Footballer of the Year.

A surprise winner, for many, but a richly deserving one. 

A perfect end to a perfect week.