Steven Gerrard’s retirement at the end of the 2014-15 season saw a new era begin at Anfield, writes Lachlan Ballingall.
In my time supporting The Reds, Gerrard was the only captain I ever knew. Right in front of my eyes there was a local lad who dragged Liverpool out of the mud on numerous occasions, and it was often in games you would dream of making a difference in as a kid.
Imagine scoring the goal that changed the game in Istanbul? Or being the player that scored the equaliser in stoppage time in the 2006 FA Cup final? Those are the moments only special players can touch.
Once Jordan Henderson had replaced the departed Gerrard as captain, the reality was different to what many expected of a Liverpool captain. Many thought he should come in and be the type of captain Gerrard was, but that was never going to be the case.
My early memories of Henderson were a player that was extremely well prepared for games, someone who wanted to be the best they could and someone who led by example on and off the pitch. He was someone who you just wanted to see do really well.
Henderson has never stood out as a player in his career in the way Gerrard did, but he’s a very solid and underrated footballer. It’s easy to wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t been sent off against Manchester City in 2014. He was the energy and driving force in midfield that season, something that was lacking in his absence.
That is in the past now though, and Henderson, alongside everybody else involved with the club, can dare to dream once again.
Looking at the present, Henderson has shown the footballing public what type of captain he wants to be. In the run in to the Champions League final, he looks a man possessed.
Wonderful interview in @MailSport last night by @OllieHolt22 with Jordan Henderson. How a refusal to leave Liverpool became the catalyst for his extraordinary development on and off the pitch, into a true leader.@JHenderson 👏https://t.co/NculsiTAvy
— Oliver Bond (@Oliver__Bond) May 20, 2018
His performance in the quarter final first leg against Manchester City was superb, but the performance in the semi final first leg against Roma was perhaps his best performance in a red shirt.
Over the two legs against Roma, he made 10 tackles, more than any player from either side. He stood up in the club’s biggest game for years, but people still believe he isn’t good enough to captain Liverpool.
He has adapted well to playing as a number six, considering it wasn’t that long ago he was playing a box-to-box role. Jürgen Klopp obviously identified that Henderson had all the tools to play in a deeper position and that decision is paying dividends now.
As shown against Roma at Anfield, he was able to protect the back four, move the ball around with some tempo and spray passes to play our front three in.
His passing range was also on full display in the final league game of the season against Brighton. It does remain a vastly underrated feature in his game.
You don’t need world-class footballers in every position, but you need people who are ready to fight for the cause. One trait that is very apparent in Henderson is his passion.
His reaction when the full-time whistle went in Rome was one I haven’t seen from a Liverpool player in a good while. You could see how desperate he is to lead The Reds to silverware.
Looking at the man behind the armband, I loved what he did after the game when he asked the travelling Reds to hand over the banner paying tribute to Sean Cox.
Henderson could have easily got caught up in a personal moment having progressed to his first ever Champions League final, and nobody would have begrudged him that soaking that up.
However, his leadership qualities shone through as he got the team together and held the banner in front of the away end, as You’ll Never Walk Alone was belted out.
Henderson has shown that acts of that kind aren’t a one off either, having agreed to personally take the banner to Kiev to make sure it gets there and can be displayed in the Liverpool end without any hassle. This comes after also having gone out of his way to write a letter to Sean and the Cox family wishing him speedy recovery.
The final countdown begins… pic.twitter.com/9prBSidPwg
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 21, 2018
No one has asked him to do any of this, but his natural leadership instincts have compelled him. It just shows what type of a person he is.
During what must be such a difficult time for the Cox family, Henderson is doing his bit to show them support and possibly raise a smile. Despite the example Gerrard set, you don’t have to be the best player to be a good captain, you just need to buy into what the football club stands for.
Henderson has made it his own responsibility to show the players and the club as a whole are behind the Cox family in their time of need.
It’s acts like that which make him captain material.
He has also shown his influence in the dressing room in recent times. Having been the man to call a players-only meeting when things weren’t going well earlier in the season, an inspired move by the looks of it, Henderson was also more than happy to oblige when Mo Salah wanted Liverpool representation alongside him at the PFA Awards recently. The respect his teammates have for him is clear, he leads by example and they follow.
— Anything Liverpool (@AnythingLFC_) May 21, 2018
The manager appreciates Henderson’s influence as well, in March he said: “Hendo is doing an incredible job here. If you ask me ‘am I thinking about giving the armband to someone else?’ then no. Captaincy feels like a joy in the first moment and then from that moment on it’s only work. I don’t think if I asked in the dressing room ‘who wants to be captain next year?’ that 28 arms would go up.”
As Klopp points out, it’s an unenviable task. But it’s one Henderson has given his all to.
The amount of stick he has taken over the course of his Liverpool career has been unwarranted, and there would be nothing better than seeing him lift our sixth European Cup.
If he does, it should put an end to all the talk around his position within the team. Instead, the supporters should be talking about how he was our fifth captain to lift the European Cup.
And no one deserves it more.
He is more than good enough to lead this club, and he has shown that over the course of the past few months. Hopefully he can become the latest captain to be pictured holding the European Cup aloft, and etch himself into Liverpool folklore.
Bring it home, Hendo.