The long and winding road has come to an end for Jordan Henderson, which saw him lead Liverpool to become the kings of Europe once again. This tactical analysis will focus on the Reds’ captain and his career to date, with the use of statistics.
His journey began on the social media platform Bebo up in Sunderland and ended in Madrid, lifting the famous big-eared trophy in the Spanish capital and thus being catapulted into Anfield folklore for eternity, having achieved what only four previous Liverpool captains before him have managed, Emlyn Hughes, Phil Thompson, Graeme Souness and Steven Gerrard being those wearing the famous armband with the Liverbird on their chest.
The European Cup represents the first trophy the Sunderland-born midfielder has won since winning the Carling Cup at Wembley back in 2012, during his first season at Anfield, and his first trophy since taking the captaincy from Steven Gerrard in 2015. Also, having endured many heartaches such as the title challenges of 2013/14 and 2018/19, as well as cup final defeats against the likes of Manchester City, Sevilla and Real Madrid, have really helped to produce a character of vast tenacity, passion and commitment to the cause and to the football club which goes very much unappreciated by a section of Liverpool supporters.
Henderson began his career at his boyhood club in Sunderland, coming through the ranks at the Academy of Light and ensuring that his dream of becoming a professional footballer for the team he grew up watching, came true. He debuted in the 2009/10 at the tender age of 20, starting 23 games for the Black Cats and appearing ten times as a substitute, scoring just the one goal but tallying an impressive three assists.
Who Scored also racked up that the soon to be Liverpool captain went on to start every Premier League game bar one the next season, with many of the top clubs in England having their heads turned by the Mackem talent. His passing accuracy accurately improved, shooting up from 68.4% to 81.2%, with his player development under manager Roy Keane showing its colours.
The following summer, and before he knew it, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish brought Henderson to Merseyside for a fee of around £20m, in a move that the north-easterner was “overjoyed” with, to be a part of one of the biggest clubs in world football.
In his first season in the pure red shirt, he clocked an impressive 31 starts for the Reds, which saw him partner the likes of Gerrard and Charlie Adam in the centre of the park, scoring two goals and getting one assist. A season which definitely helped the youngster to get some playing time under his belt and to be guided by the likes of captain fantastic himself, all incorporated with a Carling Cup win at Wembley against Cardiff City after a penalty shootout.
After winning a trophy during his first season at the club, with it grew his confidence and his experience as a Liverpool player. However, he didn’t get as much game time when manager Brendan Rodgers came into the fold, with the former Charlton Athletic youngster Jonjo Shelvey predominantly favoured as Gerrard’s understudy throughout the season. However, things did not turn out as rosily as the former Charlton Athletic prospect was hoping for, and he eventually moved to play for Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City.
The season after Shelvey’s departure, Henderson found himself utilised a lot more offensively further up the pitch, working as a box-to-box midfielder alongside the likes of captain Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva. This, of course, may have fluctuated with Philippe Coutinho dropping deep to create a narrow midfield and a wide attack, with Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling preferred as the attacking wingers to hurt opposition fullbacks. Henderson’s effect paid off, as it turned out to be one of his best seasons to date.
The former Mackem started 35 games, scoring four goals and tallying seven assists, with one of the best pass success percentages in the league that season with 87.1%. An astonishing figure considering the number of games that he played. That season, Liverpool lost the league title to Manchester City on the final day by just two points. This would be just the start of the evolution of the Jordan Henderson we know today.
The following season, Henderson managed to bag six goals and rack up nine assists, but because of Liverpool’s lack of success on the field on what turned out to be another frustrating season for the Reds, his achievements went largely unnoticed, as to date, the 2014/15 season was statistically the best he’s had in a Liverpool shirt.
The 2015/16 campaign effectively saw the demise of Brendan Rodgers and his reign at Anfield, but before that, and with Steven Gerrard moving to LA Galaxy, he was chosen as the next leader of the Anfield men, as he was given the famous captain’s armband that so many great players before him wore and succeeded while wearing. It was a big career move for Henderson as he planned to do things his own way as the Anfield skipper.
Jurgen Klopp came into the Liverpool hot seat after Rodgers’ dismissal, and instantaneously made effective use of Henderson and his leadership qualities that he clearly possesses. However, Emre Can and James Milner were favoured as Liverpool set up with a 4-2-3-1 with two deep-lying midfielders and wingers in Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho. With just 15 appearances in the Premier League and a pass success percentage of just 79.1%, the Sunderland-born midfielder has certainly had better times. He would be rewarded in future seasons for his patience and his persistence.
Henderson has not played more than 25 league games since 2014/15, Klopp’s preference for other midfielders in his starting eleven has not encouraged the 29-year-old to throw in the towel. After the disappointment of losing the Champions League Final in Kiev against Real Madrid, and after a reassuring World Cup campaign with England from an individual’s perspective, Henderson would achieve the dream of a small boy, the young man, a Liverpool fan’s fantasy. Lifting the famous European Cup aloft in the Spanish capital after a season full of highs and lows, a lack of starts, huge goals and season-defining moments.