by Dan Beale

It’s the middle of November 2012, and Jordan  Henderson finds himself sat on the Liverpool bench again watching the action from afar. No player wants to be benched at any given time, but as an eager 22 year old chomping at the bit to play this period of time must have been extremely frustrating for Henderson. Yet his faultless attitude on the pitch and training pitch, and ever improving performances have put him in the starting line up going into the second half of the season.

When Jordan was signed from Sunderland in 2011, a few eyebrows were raised. Nobody has ever doubted the talent that Henderson possesses but the fee that Liverpool paid was in the region of £16million. This amount of money for a 20 year old with only 71 Premier League Performances to his name seemed excessive. After all, Liverpool were languishing closer to mid-table after a woeful season than they were to the top four, and a long term investment like Henderson seemed like the last thing that they needed. Liverpool needed a quick fix, money spent on players with experience who would make an instant impact.

Henderson went on to make 48 appearances in his first season at Liverpool, missing just one game all season in the Premier League. It is a well known fact that all managers have their favourite players and to Kenny Dalglish, Jordan Henderson was his safety blanket. He played in his favoured central midfield, but also on the right hand side of midfield and right back. No matter his performance, Henderson seemed to get the nod. This is where the issue of the fee arose. Why was Dalglish regularly playing Henderson over Maxi or Bellamy, both players who kept making big impacts coming from the bench, other than for the fact he was justifying his £16million purchase?  Henderson was effectively learning his trade in the spotlight, right in front of the most scrutinising supporters in football, and there was nowhere to hide. It was poor management from Dalglish to continue to play him game after game and it had a negative affect of Henderson’s confidence.

Yet, you could still not fault Henderson’s effort or attitude. He turned up every week, and though not playing as well as he would have liked, he still put in a good shift and ran his socks off. His frustrations at his poor performances were evident to see by his on-field body language and nobody could ever complain that he didn’t care. By the end of the season, in a game against Chelsea, Henderson had finally put in the kind of performance his reputation preceded and things were looking up.

Then Dalglish was sacked.

Rodgers came in and clearly didn’t fancy Henderson. All of a sudden he found himself frozen out of the side and used exclusively as a Europa League player. Rodgers signed Joe Allen from Swansea and with Lucas returning from injury and Rodgers clear favouritism towards Shelvey, Henderson found himself right down the pecking order. Even when Lucas Leiva picked up an injury that would keep him out of the side for a few months, Henderson still struggled to find his way into the side. But again it is his attitude I come back to. He did not moan, or let his feelings be known in public. Nor did he look for a way out, even when it was offered to him, he stayed to fight for his career. The desire to succeed in such abundance, that Jordan possesses, is truly a fantastic quality. It is this desire that has seen him force his way back into the starting 11 since the Christmas period. Through tireless efforts in training, and ever impressive performances in the Europa League, the tenacious midfielder is now beginning to receive the plaudits he deserves.

Liverpool’s midfield had been dysfunctional without Henderson, but he gives the balance that is required to make a midfield three tick. With Gerrard getting older, and Lucas still feeling his was back, Henderson’s athleticism and great engine in the middle of the pitch has stopped teams bulldozing their way way through a fragile midfield. This dirty work not only helps defensively but has also benefited Liverpool going forward in two key ways. Firstly it allows Steven Gerrard to get on the ball more. Henderson’s presence and work rate has relieved the pressure from Gerrard playing in that deeper position. Gerrard now has more time on the ball and space in which to work; which with his passing ability is potentially fatal.

I don’t think the improvement of Gerrard’s performances have been coincidental with Henderson’s inclusion, nor do I believe that it is coincidental that Liverpool have improved since Henderson’s inclusion in the starting 11. Henderson is a proper footballer. He has that game intelligence which is so vital to make it at the the top level, and let’s not forget he is only 22. Secondly, in the first half of the season, Liverpool did not score enough goals. They made, and missed, enough chances but failed to have anyone breaking a neck from deep to burst into the box to slot the ball in. Looking at Chelsea with Lampard, and formerly Gerrard with Liverpool, to have a player running into the box late will improve your goal return so much, Henderson has been able to do this. With goals against Norwich and Arsenal, he has shown not only his exceptional technique but his desire to get there and score goals. The tenacity in which he pressurises the opposition and yet is still able to pass the ball with such precision and delicacy really makes Liverpool tick.

So in a week that he is rightfully beginning to receive the plaudits he deserves, and also won England’s under 21 player of the year, it is right to praise his persistent attitude that earnt him his way back into the Liverpool side. This is a player who is only 22, years from his prime performances, and yet he has come through the strain of a hefty price tag and criticism and also settled down at the very top level. For me, this is now when we will really start to see Henderson progress into the top player he can be, and in turn, Liverpool will also start to move up the table.

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