The Players Who Define Rodgers’ Tenure: No.2

The Players Who Define Rodgers’ Tenure: No.2
March 5, 2014 Chris Rowland

By Anthony Stanley (TTT Subscriber Dannyluke10):

Part 2: Jordan Henderson.

“Thank you very much for buying Hendo…” – Sunderland fans singing (to the obvious tune) in 2011.

It doesn’t require a huge leap of imagination to picture the scene.  The autumnal sun streams through the Melwood window, bathing those within Brendan Rodgers’ office in a warm light. Jordan Henderson doesn’t feel the comfort of the sun as he sits, mouth agape and head slightly bowed, as his manager delivers the news.  He can feel the spectre of Shankly as the legendary former Liverpool manager peers down from the picture on the wall, radiant smile in stark contrast to Henderson’s slowly spreading coldness.  Jordan’s anxiety cannot be kept from his crestfallen face as he attempts to come to grips with the utterance that has come from the gaffer’s lips.  Henderson takes a swallow to clear his mouth of saliva, licks his lips carefully as he tries to find the words and then lifts his head to confront Rodgers before rhetorically asking: “Clint fucking Dempsey.  Really?”

Okay, it’s possible that the last sentence is stretching the boundaries of probability to breaking point, but it’s hard to imagine a greater kick in the teeth than, just a year after signing for one of Europe’s most successful clubs for a fee north of £16 million, being told that you may be essentially a makeweight in a bid to sign a twenty-nine-year-old jobbing forward.  But if Jordan Henderson was hurt, perhaps he shouldn’t have been incredulous; his debut season had been an underwhelming one.  Shunted between the right wing and his favoured central midfield position, his confidence, as the season progressed, appeared to be visibly draining away.  It looked like the club was too big for him as he stagnated and sometimes went missing for several entire ninety minutes at a time.  He was rarely spectacularly bad because a lot of the times one could be forgiven for forgetting that he was actually on the pitch; his passing was invariably the ‘safe option’ (football code for two yards to the side or back), he played ultra-conservative and there rarely seemed to be any conviction in his play. He appeared overawed by the dominant personalities with whom he shared a dressing room and a football pitch.

The Liverpool Echo’s James Pearce noted that Jordan “looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights; passes would inevitably go sideways rather than forwards”.  Moreover, almost by default as the season entered its closing stages, he was bracketed with the rest of the Comolli/Dalglish summer signings; Charlie Adam – nothing wrong with his ability but sometimes absolutely tragic decision- making and Stewart Downing – a player who looked like he had the mentality of an average supporter plucked from the terraces to, overnight, wear the Liver bird on his chest.  And to compound matters Henderson, along with the other British arrivals, was compared unfavourably to the signings undertaken by our rivals, Juan Mata to Chelsea and Van der Vaart to Tottenham being examples (supporters generally don’t take wages into account when voicing their ire at a perceived poor signing or a failure to procure a ‘big name’).  Finally, the one success from Roy Hodgson’s disastrous transfer policy, and a player who was popular with the Liverpool fans, Raul Meireles, was moved on to Chelsea, seemingly to accommodate Jordan’s arrival.  That we were paying for potential with Henderson rather than the finished product was not in doubt but the young midfielder almost found the fates conspiring against him from day one.  If ever a transfer seemed doomed to failure than this was it.

Football is all about ifs and buts; the aforementioned Downing’s rocket against Sunderland in his first Premier League start goes in instead of slamming against the woodwork and we may have seen a different player.  The Liverpool team in general had quite a few of these moments in the 2011-12 season and Henderson struggled to settle (despite an early season goal taken with aplomb) and sometimes you could almost see a grey cloud of nerves and anxiety hanging over his head.  Being played out of position obviously didn’t help and the question many supporters asked was why not just buy a specialist right midfielder rather than a central one shifted to the right.  The position he played in patently didn’t suit his strengths and it wasn’t long before he became a nexus point for the frustrations that were increasingly felt by many Kopites.  With Dalglish rarely playing Maxi and Dirk Kuyt (the most obvious candidates for a right midfield berth and both having proven to be a precious source of goals), the team were chronically reliant on Suarez.  In trying to accommodate Andy Carroll, Liverpool weren’t playing to the Uruguayan’s strengths and this was also a stage in the controversial forward’s evolution when he was not seen as a natural goal scorer.  So there was massive pressure on Henderson (along with Adam and Downing) to deliver in this area; Adam met with some limited success but unfortunately goal scoring had never been in Henderson’s locker as a young central midfielder (six goals in ninety two appearances prior to his Anfield arrival).  That this youngster was being asked to be a winger meant that it was unlikely that we’d see the triumphant leap and wide grin that we fleetingly witnessed against Bolton (in fact, Henderson wouldn’t score again until the penultimate game of the season against Chelsea).

The rest of this article is for Subscribers only.