‘I know there will be more fingers pointed at me if things don’t go according to plan but I can deal with that. All I want to do is be successful for the team.
‘I want us to win things and there would be no place better to win things as a captain.’ Jordan Henderson; July 24, 2015.
The symmetry is impossible to escape. Five years to the day since Henderson spoke to national newspapers for the first time as Liverpool captain, in a plush hotel in Kuala Lumpur, his journey is complete. The man who led Liverpool to the title is now officially Footballer of the Year.
Henderson becomes the 12th Liverpool player to receive the award (though it has gone to Anfield 14 times thanks to dual recipients Kenny Dalglish and John Barnes) and it has been bestowed on him for his impeccable efforts through a wonderful campaign.
Liverpool have started gathering trophies once again and Henderson has been the driving force throughout with starring roles in the defining games, such as the 2-0 win over Manchester United in January and the Club World Cup final against Flamengo last December.
Statistics back up his importance. Henderson played 30 times in the Premier League this season before he suffered medial ligament damage, during which Liverpool’s win percentage stood at 90; without him in the team, it dropped to 50 per cent.
This story, however, goes far beyond numbers and to understand what this personal achievement represents, it is important to go back to that night in Malaysia. It was an uncertain time for Liverpool, with Brendan Rodgers’ position in the balance and the squad being overhauled.
If he was a little nervous, it was understandable. He had succeeded Steven Gerrard as skipper and many observers felt it was the equivalent of being asked to go on stage and sing after Frank Sinatra; Gerrard, of course, was the man with the right word and the right performance when it mattered.
He knew he couldn’t excel in the role by mimicking a player he idolised. He also knew it would be unrealistic for people to think he would speak as emotionally as Gerrard spoke. More than anything, though, he was aware that critics thought he would flounder.
One aspect that many will have underestimated Henderson on is his bloody-mindedness and refusal to give up. Sunderland considered letting him go from their Academy when he was 14; Liverpool almost sold him after that difficult first season in 2012, when it all appeared too much.
You don’t give up the office of Liverpool captain lightly and Henderson knew the honour that had been bestowed on him. When he got into his rhythm that night in Kuala Lumpur, the ambition started to pour out. He wanted to lead a team of which the fans could be proud.
Look at them now. It took the arrival of Jurgen Klopp to make it all come together but, since 2015, Henderson has made relentless improvement as a player, his fortunes soaring in tandem with the team. If he plays well, it is a given that Liverpool will play well, too.
There is more to him, however, than just being a top-class footballer. Those who know him will tell you he is a top class person – which is more important than anything – and you saw evidence of it earlier this year at the height of the pandemic.
When news broke that he was central to the #PlayersTogether movement, he was frustrated as he didn’t want any kind of attention or to be singled out. The truth is, however, that initiative would not have got off the ground without him.
Being in the limelight is something he finds uncomfortable and you only have to read his acceptance speech, given to the FWA website, to see how it makes him feel. This, remember, is a man who wanted to lift the Champions League with James Milner and Klopp rather than do it alone.
‘I don’t feel like anything I’ve achieved this season – or in fact during my whole career – has been done on my own,’ said Henderson. ‘I owe a lot to so many different people – but none more so than my current teammates – who have just been incredible and deserve this every bit as much as I do.’
The voters saw it differently. They saw someone who drove Liverpool forward, who was at the heart of an unrelenting quest to become champions. Henderson has achieved his ambition to make Liverpool a successful team. He should enjoy the praise that comes his way. It is richly deserved.