Jordan Henderson’s Xxtra Strong – The Gel that Holds Liverpool Together

From being offered as bait in exchange for Fulham’s Clint Dempsey to becoming the captain of Europe’s most successful English club, Jordan Henderson’s sweat-breaking journey through accusations of mediocrity, incompetency and a proclivity for the mundane has been a long one. All of 25, his only quarter-life crises now stems from the responsibility of stepping into the shoes of a certain Steven Gerrard, whose name attracts comparisons from none less than the most formidable talents the world has produced.

Jordan Henderson is keen to replace Steven Gerrard as Liverpool's long-term captain

But is it really a question of filling those legend-stamped shoes? It would be harsh to call it a successor’s curse, something which Henderson would no doubt have sleepless nights about, of having to lead those ten loyal men in red out into Anfield on a warm Saturday afternoon filtering out the whispers among the 45,000 who evaluate him and wonder if his passion would ever extend beyond his blood-soaked heat maps and become the bastion of leadership his famed predecessor was known for.

After a dismal season, with Liverpool finishing sixth and below Tottenham, fingers uncurled to point to an unexceptional midfield, despite the presence of the brilliant Coutinho and the emotional gathering towards Gerrard’s departure. Henderson’s heroics were limited to a few gleaming displays, while his work rate mitigated the criticism that was surely coming his way. In 28 premier league games, he managed a return of 5 goals and 7 assists, but he has never been someone who has been gauged on statistics, has he? What then, if not goals and assists, made him, in the span of 2 years, from a near-reject to the captain of Liverpool?

Liverpool’s captaincy has been rather skewed in terms of its longevity, and not for three decades prior to Gerrard’s appointment in 2003 have we seen a captain serving for more than 3 years. We’d have to go back to the glittering, trophy-laden period of the 70s when Emlyn Hughes championed Liverpool to an enviable return of 4 league titles, an FA Cup demolition of Newcastle United, successive European Cups, a UEFA Cup and a Super Cup, all in the span of 6 years. Gerrard has been brutally humbled in this respect. And yet, his reverence is unmistakeable. There is no doubt as to who has been the better player, funded by loyalty or otherwise, and who has shed blood countless times as part of a menial trade with the undying love and devotion he has received in return.


Henderson’s situation, though, will be much different. Whether it is the constant admonishment of never really stepping up to that grand pedestal of glorified match-winners or being the footballing equivalent of ‘you are what you are surrounded by’, Henderson’s mistakes will not be easily condoned. Subconsciously, every poor result will have a factor attributed to him, He isn’t your rock at the back; he isn’t your bursting-through-the-midfield dynamo, like an unshackled hound going after its netted prey; neither is he your pansy trickster out to serve a platter of hell to hapless fullbacks. He is the kind who is visible more when he isn’t, making eleven seem thirteen or fourteen, chasing the ball halfway across the field in stoppage time when your team is leading by two goals. It would be a mockery of sorts on this present day if I were to call this great character.

Comparisons to Gerrard, while inevitable, are futile. “I don’t think there will ever be another Steven Gerrard in terms of talent and leadership,” said Henderson on being appointed captain. There isn’t any reverse psychology associated with that statement. That is as brutally honest as they come, and nothing too far from what the supporters would have wanted to hear from someone they were willing to discard to Fulham in exchange for Dempsey a few years back. But if the transformation alone isn’t proof enough, I doubt anything else will be. Besides, it would be foolish to assume that such comparisons had not been prevalent twelve years ago when Gerrard took the mantle from Hyypia who, along with Fowler, had secured the treble under Houllier in 2001. That Henderson fits into neither of the moulds is a different matter. There is still a scream to his stride, a constant reminder of his pulsating tendency to push till the clock dies, something which no graph or statistic can possibly cover.

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Is Henderson the best choice of captain Liverpool has? There isn’t much of a doubt there. Sakho is still feeling the after-taste of a rough season while Skrtel is no Carragher. Henderson seems apt for the responsibility, someone who could shake off the rustiness, smother any buzz of undercooking in the squad and,most importantly, be the right man to rid Rodgers of many of his long-standing dues.The latter has started to look at Henderson as a role model, an ambassador of sorts, for the coming seasons. Perhaps it is too early to say, and perhaps this is the time when they speculate, but Henderson could well go a long way as captain, unlike the many predecessors of Gerrard who have passed on the mantle within 2-3 years. His purpose of proving the judgment of the fans wrong is now over. The purpose of proving their expectations right now begins.

Liverpool Football Club have a captain with a will as strong as the gel that holds his coiffure, and strong enough to hold the hopes of a million.