Stephen Goldsmith writes: I have defended the abilities of Jordan Henderson as a footballer to quite an extent since his big money move to Anfield a year ago. If you believe your opinion is accurate regarding something, you are likely to express it and fully believe in it if you feel it is necessary to do so.
The beauty of football is that it’s built on a foundation of a concept that is open to interpretation, meaning that quite often any positive judgement of a player can’t be proved beyond all doubt. A world class player who dribbles past players for fun and would walk in to most sides, will be to the detriment of the team as a whole, some might say. A player whose qualities require observations that aren’t highlighted by T.V replays every week, can be even tougher to debate positively about. It’s safe to say that Jordan Henderson isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. I, however, remain convinced he has a career at the top; or at least the potential for one. There is always the possibility of making assumptions that will inevitably blow up in your face, of course, but at this stage in his career I will defend him until the cows come home.
I was always under the impression that the Liverpool fans were unjustifiably critical towards Jordan last season, and that this was reflective of a set of supporters who struggle with the reality of their team’s place in the modern hierachy of English football. Since speaking to many, it appears I have generalised them in regards to this. Slap on the wrists for that, Goldy. When I was a guest on the multi-award winning podcast The Anfield Wrap prior to the Sunderland v Liverpool game, I was a little surprised to hear that Henderson is more popular with the hard-core Liverpool fans than we think. Since then, host Neil Atkinson and I got into a bit of a chat regarding Jordan and how he’s actually doing at Anfield since his move.
From day one of Jordan Henderson signing for Liverpool, it has came across as if he’s struggled and the fans think he’s a poor player. Is this accurate?
Neil: On day one of Jordan Henderson’s Liverpool career, we played Sunderland at home and he started on the right in a four man midfield. Liverpool produced some good football first half but wilted, especially in the middle of the pitch, in the second forty-five minutes. The crux of this, for me, was Charlie Adam. Henderson went on, broadly speaking, to disappoint but he spent the vast majority of his season on the right hand side of midfield. He never partnered Lucas – a partnership which could have had some joy – but looked a better player playing centrally especially as the season closed. He and Shelvey looked excellent against Chelsea at home.
Interesting. He started on the right for Sunderland also but began to look like he had more to offer in the middle, something which Steve Bruce noted and acted upon. It had always came across as if the Liverpool fans didn’t like him, then I spoke to you guys, and others, and it seems the hardcore fans – the travelling ones – quite like him afterall. Is that fair?
Neil: The support – speaking very generally – don’t believe he’s a poor player, more one who lacks the gumption and possibly cojones to make something happen or keep the opponents out. He’s looked increasingly belligerent towards the back end of last season and start of this which has been part of his better performances and why some are just starting to warm to him.
That’s good. I have always maintained that he will come good once he allows himself to break free from those shackles, so I’m glad to hear he’s beginning to change peoples’ perspective. That said, he was offered to Fulham on transfer deadline day. Would you have been disappointed to see that happen?
Neil: I would have been very much so, yes. I rate the player highly. I think Liverpool were at panic stations in terms of securing Dempsey with limited support from FSG (due to Dempsey’s age) and were acting accordingly – there had been no real talk about Henderson being available before then.
I thought as much, but because I’m a big fan I wondered if I had rose tinted specs on in assessing as much. He should be made for a Brendan Rodgers midfield with his touch and sharp passing, in my opinion.
Neil: I think that Henderson is potentially a real asset to Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool. I believe he should have been a real asset to Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool and should have replaced Jay Spearing in centre midfield from day one rather than being stationed on the right hand side. His energy and intelligence when Liverpool are in and out of possession is good to see. He doesn’t throw himself into tackles but tackling is overrated. He looks to clip the ball off the player to start counters. He could be a bit more dynamic but he has been strong for Liverpool in Europe this season. Further, the way Brendan Rodgers looks to play he needs six strong midfield options. He has those and Liverpool’s improvement should come from there. I hope to see Henderson start the next three games for Liverpoo, he deserves to be ahead of Nuri Sahin in the pecking order thus far given Shelvey’s suspension and Lucas’ injury*.
(*This was written before Nuri Sahin’s man of the match performance in the League Cup against West Brom, a fact Neil was quick to point out.)
Let’s hope he can make it count then. One thing I always maintain is that had he not cost so much and had broke through Liverpool’s academy then people would be a lot more positive about him. I think he’d tipped for great things in that scenario, as he was at Sunderland, he hasn’t suddenly became a worse player. Do You think he’d be more appreciated by liverpool fans if that was the case?
Neil: That sort of thing goes without saying at every club. We like to see our own come in and we show more patience. 16m is a big price tag for a player who arrives and is immediately stationed out of position. There’d be more sympathetic voices had he broken through.
Neil: He can. People see a genuine player, they’d just like to see more from him. Of Kenny’s remaining signings only Suarez has more goodwill from the crowd. Henderson’s played some splendid balls this season already and only the sort of deficient finishing Liverpool specialize has stopped those balls from getting the applause they deserve. I think English crowds generally are still struggling to come to terms with changes in centre midfield – box to box players and performances are rarer than ever from the centre of the pitch. Central midfielders facilitate more than create these days – for Liverpool, at least, I expect to see Glen Johnson at full back ahead of at least one centre midfielder when we have the ball, if not two.
Neil: What makes this tougher is Henderson himself doesn’t seem to be sure where in this modern midfield he should be. He’s a blank canvas of a player. Able to read the play and anticipate as the deepest midfielder but he’s no Lucas Leiva. Able to transition with energy between defence and attack but he’s no Joe Allen. Able to create opportunities going forward but he’s no Steven Gerrard. He isn’t even as defined a player as Jonjo Shelvey or Nuri Sahin. Lucas Leiva was the same undefined talent for Liverpool and for a while was the target for genuine contempt from a small section of the Liverpool crowd who saw him as the representative for a manager they ridiculously disliked in Rafa Benitez. Henderson has never reached anywhere that point but in order to make the fullest impression at Anfield he will have to show the same desire and work ethic as Lucas. I hope he does.
Great chatting again Neil, hope to chat to you guys on your great podcast in time for the next time our sides meet. One last thing, can you remember Steven Wright? We thought we were onto a winner with him. Did you always know better?
Neil: He looked a good player for a few weeks, as did Otsemebor around the same time. We got a few decent games out of each of them but neither went on to be players at the highest level. It’s almost a bait and switch – play the player who overperforms on adrenaline but then when he calms down to his level after, let him move. It’s remarkable the rate of full backs we get through these days. We have about six injured so we may end up selling you another one in eighteen months who will flatter to deceive.
I’d take Sterling and risk him being a flash in the pan!
Neil Atkinson on Neil Atkinson:
I am the presenter of multi award-winning The Anfield Wrap podcast, which has really shot to prominence across the UK’s online football community. It is recorded in Liverpool every Monday and for Citytalk 105.9 every Friday. I also, when not drudging day to day, attempt to write for film and television, and occasionally type words about football which also tend to be published on The Anfield Wrap.