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Unleash Jordan Henderson

It wasn’t long ago that Jordan Henderson was nearly pushed out of the club by Brendan Rodgers in a swap deal for Fulham’s Clint Dempsey.

After a miserable first season, the then 22-year-old was offered a way out of Liverpool to reignite this career. But instead of accepting his fate he knuckled down and decided to fight for his place – what a great decision that was.

That season, Henderson scored five goals and provided four assists – playing an integral part in a new exciting Liverpool under Rodgers. The next season his importance to the team continued to grow as he played a key role in Liverpool’s second-place finish.

Henderson was influential as the Reds came agonisingly close to breaking their Premier League title drought. His four goals and seven assists were accompanied by his tireless effort both on and off the ball. He was the workhorse of the team. He allowed the more attacking players the freedom to go forward while also helping out an ageing Steven Gerrard.

Henderson did all the heavy lifting in midfield. His importance to the side was undeniable. Many fans would say the league was lost that year when he had to serve a three-game suspension after a red card against Manchester City near the end of the season. 

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That summer then vice-captain Daniel Agger left the club and in a move that was supported by the majority of the fanbase, Henderson was named as Gerrard’s new deputy. He got a lot of experience leading Liverpool with Gerrard either being dropped or out with injury and did an admirable job.

After being Liverpool captain for 12 years, Gerrard left Liverpool and headed to LA Galaxy. Henderson was promoted to permanent captain and expectations were high for Liverpool’s new skipper. But just two games into the season Henderson suffered a heel injury that kept him out for four months.

During that time Liverpool won only four out of 13 matches. When the skipper returned in mid-December, fans were understandably excited. The man that kept Liverpool ticking was back.

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But since he last featured for Liverpool something massively changed at the club. The man who nearly ended his Liverpool career, but then helped him resurrect it, Brendan Rodgers was sacked. Former Borussia Dortmund boss Jürgen Klopp was appointed the new manager and brought his new style of exciting attacking football to Anfield. Fans couldn’t wait for Henderson to feature for the new boss.

So when the captain was named in the starting lineup against West Brom the fans were excited. And just 20 minutes into his return Henderson scored to give Liverpool the lead. The skipper was back and ready to pick up from where he left off.

Klopp though saw things a bit differently. He transformed Henderson from an all-action box-to-box midfielder to a defensive playmaker and he has operated in that role ever since.

Now instead of being a cult figure Henderson is often the butt of jokes and the most ridiculed player in the squad bar Moreno. Calls for him to be dropped and stripped of the captaincy are normal occurrences.

Videos compilations of his mistakes and back-passes are played on repeat and his errors get magnified more than almost any other player. When the team puts in a bad performance the first to blame is always Henderson. He’s an easy scapegoat.

One point fans always make about Henderson is that he shouldn’t be captain. Virgil van Dijk is the popular option right now and although he is a great leader, so is Henderson. Henderson took the impossible task of replacing Gerrard and that was always going to be tough for anyone. Gerrard is arguably Liverpool’s greatest ever player and captain and it’s unfair to compare the two. Henderson is hated simply at times just because he isn’t Gerrard.

If you want to see just how good of a captain Henderson is, take a few minutes to read his interview just before the Champions League final. Henderson puts his team before himself and always wants to give all credit to them. Even when complimented Henderson instantly deflected the praise to his teammates. He wants them to have all the glory.

He then goes on to talk about the struggles he went through during the 2013/2014 season when his father was battling cancer. He was going through tough times at home but you wouldn’t have known that watching him on the pitch as he gave everything to Liverpool.

He’s been through it all at Liverpool but continues to overcome troubles and bounce back. You can accuse Henderson of many things but being a poor captain is definitely not one of those.

“But he doesn’t command people on the pitch,” some fans would say. But he does, all the time actually. He’s always barking orders and giving instructions. Just recently against Napoli when Naby Keïta and Fabinho came on Henderson went over to both of them and gave them instructions.

In that same match, cameras caught the skipper and van Dijk going back and forth in a heated discussion as Liverpool tried to see out the rest of the game. Ordering players is something Henderson does regularly.

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Another moment fans point to was his recent red card against Watford. A quick look through Twitter after the skipper was sent off and many were calling for him to lose the captaincy because that isn’t “captain behaviour.”

Well, I guess everyone forgot that the very man they wish Henderson was got sent off against Manchester United of all sides just 48 seconds after coming on. Again just another useless criticism to beat Henderson with. No matter what he does he will never win with some fans.

Henderson has had an up and down Liverpool career but time and time again has proved his importance to the squad. In his current position of defensive midfield, Henderson is tasked with aiding in the press, dictating the tempo of play, switch the ball with his long diagonal passes, transitioning the side from defence to attack and recycling the ball.

That last point is something that fans really have a problem with. Mocked for his sideways and backwards passes on countless occasions, twitter videos can be found of Henderson passing it safely backwards when a more attacking forward option is available.

But this isn’t fair. Sometimes passing back is good, instead of risking losing the ball you play it safe and wait until the moment is right. It’s a tactical instruction that helps keep the ball moving and the play flowing. Patience is the key is some situations.

And in terms of the Twitter videos, they are mostly inaccurate representations of what is actually occurring on the pitch. The person making the video will pause it just before Henderson receives the ball to show the options he has but in reality when he actually does receive the ball those forward options are gone and he has no other choice but to pass backwards.

And it’s easy to see all the options when you can pause and rewatch a situation a thousand times in slow motion. Henderson was a key part of the side that made it to the Champions League Finals and deserved so much more respect. Fans love to massively overreact to everything he does. Can Henderson be a little more dangerous with his play? Absolutely, but it isn’t as bad as Twitter would have you believe and there are signs of this improving.

Recently in Liverpool’s must-win game against Napoli, Henderson was excellent. He showed tireless energy, didn’t give any Napoli players a moment’s rest, was always on the front foot and was positively involved in attack. Against Manchester United he came on a bit more forward and was consistently apart of the attack and making runs into the box.

And against Wolverhampton Henderson started his first game under Klopp not as the deepest midfielder. Working ahead of Fabinho, Henderson was allowed more freedom to roam forward. He was allowed to join in the attack, make clever passes and flicks around the box and press like only Henderson knows how to press. He didn’t give the Wolves midfield a second on the ball. This was a Henderson performance that got all the fans behind him. He was excellent in what most would call his best position and role.

There is a way I think Klopp could give fans the old Henderson back. The Henderson that was universally loved by all Liverpool fans. Play him in his previous role, a box to box midfielder. Unleash him.

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Liverpool now have one of the world’s best defensive midfielders in Fabinho. Klopp’s reliance to play Henderson in the same role will lower as the Brazilian gets more integrated into the side – so now is the perfect time to experiment with Henderson.

From 2012-2015 Henderson was one of Liverpool’s best and most important players. When he was out of the team the performance levels dropped. He kept the side together. His relentless pressing, great passing, late runs into the box and general willingness to do the dirty work made him a key player for Liverpool, but now he is a totally different player. Henderson should be running up and down the pitch, not standing still in front of the back four.

Watch this video of Henderson from the 2013/14 season, looks a totally different player. Imagine this Henderson in Klopp’s heavy metal football.

Watching that Henderson then watching today’s Henderson is night and day. That was five years ago but it looks like he’s aged 10 years. Klopp letting him lose could be what takes Henderson back to his best. A midfield-three of Fabinho (defensive), Henderson (box to box) and an attacking minded player could do wonders. The perfectly balanced midfield on paper.

Contrary to want you may read on social media, Henderson is an excellent player and captain. He’s an important part of Klopp’s Liverpool, but a position and role change could help Henderson recapture his best form, finally helping him become accepted by all fans. He’s done it before, he can do it again.

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