Is Liverpool’s captain-in-waiting practicing Hendo-ism or Hedonism?
The only reason I went to London was to watch football. In college, I chose to have my one semester vacation/study abroad experience in England where I could watch football during reasonable viewing hours and go to as many matches as I pleased. There, I came as close to knowing Jordan Henderson as an American living on Pentonville Road could.
One night, while waiting for a midnight meal of McDonald’s chicken strips with sour cream and chive sauce two blocks from the King’s Cross Station, a wobbly couple, munching on an order of large fries, noticed the Liverbird on my jacket. “He’s my cousin!” the young woman screamed. Her other-half smirked and shuffled his feet. I looked up, and the woman placed a fry on my chest in place of an index finger. She was looking me right in the eye.
“Jordan plays for Liverpool! This guy’s a Liverpool fan. Look at him.” The fry’s grease stained my jacket. Her husband was less impressed by my allegiances. “Yeah, but Jordan’s got a head like a rock,” he muttered.
Being assaulted by a french fry at the King’s Cross McDonald’s was the least of my worries. What the hell was this woman talking about? And did this guy just call Jordan Henderson dumb? While my tenders fried up, I started a line of questioning. The couple had come from a wedding party nearby and had a drunken desire for McDonald’s, or “Mackeydees” as they called it.
The woman, as I would learn from her iPhone photos, was actually Jordan Henderson’s cousin. Pumped full of alcohol, humanity’s greatest truth serum, she began spouting off about her little cousin. “He’s got loads of money, but he doesn’t care about it. All he wants to do is play football. That’s all he cares about.” She was proud of him. “And he’s having a baby now. He’s changing.”
Her husband, an educated, middle-manager type, stewed with jealousy. He didn’t see it. Why was Jordan Henderson worth £16 million to Liverpool? Why was he making £60,000 per week? For what?
At the time, he had a point. It was February 2013. Just five months earlier, new Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers dangled Henderson in front of Fulham to subsidize Clint Dempsey’s imminent move to Anfield. The offer: £3 million plus Henderson to meet Fulham’s £6 million asking price. It was a stunning devaluation of the 22-year-old. Signed from Sunderland a year prior for £16 million, the club had deemed Henderson’s inaugural campaign to be so disastrous that they were willing to take an 82 percent loss to pay for Dempsey, a player they didn’t even want that badly. The move fell through after Tottenham swooped in with a full-cash offer for Dempsey, and thank goodness for that.
Still, Henderson wasn’t out of the woods. Now seen as midfield surplus, a player who started every Premiership match for Kenny Dalglish the season before (making over 70 league appearances with Sunderland before his 20th birthday, Henderson was the most capped 22-year-old in best online casino the top flight) couldn’t get in Rodgers’ XI. Stuck behind Steven Gerrard, Lucas, Joe Allen, Jonjo Shelvey, and Nuri Sahin, Henderson didn’t start a league match under Rodgers until the last week of November. He didn’t complete 90 minutes in the league until that January at Arsenal.
I was at that match, sitting in the last row at the Emirates for £93. Henderson scored Liverpool’s opening goal in front of me. It was a goal made of drive, a bit of skill, and a lot of luck from a predictably headless Arsenal backline. The match ended 2-2, and since then, Henderson’s been a mainstay in Liverpool’s XI.
As reluctant as Rodgers was to make Henderson his new midfield anchor, fans were even more skeptical. Those with an Opta account would trumpet his chance creation rate (an outstanding 2.24 per match) during his last season at Sunderland where he thrived as the Black Cats” creative and industrial engine in central midfield. Everyone else wondered what the hell Hendo was good for.
During his first year and a half at Liverpool, confined to either right wing, defensive midfield, and even right back on occasion, Henderson looked to be another overrated and overpaid Englishman. Shaken for confidence after his big-money move westward to Anfield, Henderson was all guile and running, seemingly lacking in technique, imagination, and quickness—vital traits to the “tiki-taka” midfield core Rodgers were supposedly building. What was Henderson’s purpose?
Since breaking into the XI that night in London, Henderson’s ascent in a Liverpool shirt has been steady. During Liverpool’s title charge last season, he was indispensable in midfield, acting as Rodgers’ “press monkey,” doing all the running, tackling, and dirty work that Gerrard’s legs are no longer capable of. When asked at what point Liverpool lost the title, Rodgers didn’t mention Gerrard’s infamous slip against Chelsea. “No, no,” he told Ben Smith of the BBC. “I knew [the title was lost] when Jordan got sent off against Man City. I knew I couldn’t replace him. But it’s gone now.”
That season’s in the past, and so is that stage of Henderson’s development. The kid’s 24-years-old now, and he’s got serious skills. A bland lower-table midfielder no longer, Henderson’s technique is unquestioned, his goal-scoring threat is real, and his energetic box-to-box swashbuckling is as vital as ever to Rodgers’ Liverpool. His sexiest highlights conjure unfair, albeit inevitable comparisons to Ol’ Captain Gerrard.
Before the start of this season, Henderson had nine total Premiership goals in his Liverpool account. Heading into this weekend’s Top 4 elimination game against Manchester United, he’s scored in three-straight league matches. The press monkey is indulging in the more exciting parts of the game, and for opponents, that’s terrifying. Because for every touch of class tossed into GIF form, Henderson’s still playing with dogged, desperate spirit.
Stunners against Manchester City are cool, but match-winning goals, like the one he recently scored against Swansea (above), are what best exemplifies Henderson’s game. “You make your own luck in your game,” said NBCSN analyst Jim Beglin after the goal. An old football cliche, sure, but Henderson’s a throwback footballer. Like his transformative Arsenal goal in January 2013, this run and its end result was Henderson in a nutshell.
Somewhere in London, a posh white collar man eats his words while his wife buries her joy in a Henderson replica kit. In the spectrum of English football, Henderson’s cousin-in-law is just another naysayer proven wrong by Liverpool’s working class hero. Welcome to Hendo-ism in action.