Jordan Henderson: An End of a Liverpool Era

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Jul 27, 2023, 13:19

As the transfer of Jordan Henderson from Liverpool to Al-Ettifaq becomes a business done, strange emotions are stirring within the fanbase of the most successful club in the history of the English game.

The England international was known as a strong supporter of the LBGT+ community, always campaigning for equality both in and outside football. Therefore, his imminent departure to Saudi Arabia, a country with a reputation in the West for intolerance of same-sex relationships, has caused numerous discussions.

But with football players engaged in many off-the-pitch activities these days, sometimes it’s hard to keep in mind that they are, first and foremost, professional football players. There have been some this summer who have rejected offers from Saudi clubs; but not many. After all, in the modern society, we all work for money.

Be that as it may, Henderson’s status as a Liverpool legend cannot be disputed. Ask any Liverpool fan to name the trophies they’d like to see their club winning, and compare that with the list of the trophies Henderson lifted with the captain’s armband – it’ll be an exact match.

Early Liverpool days

Brought up as a footballer at Sunderland, Henderson had a brief loan spell with Coventry and returned to his parent club for two years, before joining Liverpool in 2011 for a fee of around £16 million. His first season at the club was the last in the Anfield dugout for another, arguably greater Liverpool legend, Kenny Dalglish.

Brendan Rodgers, when he replaced the man whose name one of the stands ofthe iconic stadium now bears, was initially keen to get Henderson out. The midfielder, 22 at the time, was reportedly offered to Fulham, with Rodgers believed to be keen on Clint Dempsey at the time, but Henderson himself refused the move and decided firmly to stay and fight for a place in the team.

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He did so well that he was a regular starter during the infamous run for the Premier League title in 2013/14, at the end of which he was picked to be the first deputy to Steven Gerrard as the captain. When Gerrard left the following year, Henderson became captain.

Klopp arrives

Just a couple of months later, Rodgers was sacked as disappointing results from 2014/15 continued into the season that followed. Jurgen Klopp was appointed in his place, and funnily enough, there were some who called themselves Liverpool supporters who appeared to believe that the German, being a good manager, would immediately strip Henderson of captaincy.

As it happened, Klopp proved himself as a good manager indeed, and he recognized the reasons behind the previous decision to name Henderson as the captain in the first place – the leadership, the tremendous work rate, the fearlessness in fighting for every ball and protecting his players in any uncomfortable situation. Despite numerous doubts in his football ability, he repeatedly proved the doubters wrong.

The glory years

And then it came. All the hard work, nurtured and directed by the charismatic manager, finally paid off in 2019, when Liverpool won their sixth European crown. The photos and videos of Henderson and Klopp crying together with happiness after the final whistle of the Champions League final went viral. The UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup victories soon followed.

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As strange is it may seem, the Champions League wasn’t THE trophy Liverpool fans wanted the most at that time. Almost three decades had passed since they were last the champions of England, and not even Gerrard over his 17 years at the club managed to bring it home. It turned out that, born on the wings of the Champions League success, winning the Premier League in 2019/20 proved easier than anyone expected. There were some doubts and calls for the season to be abandoned when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, but after a three-month break, the campaign was completed and Liverpool finally got what they craved most.

The trophy haul was eventually completed through a double consisting of the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup in 2021/22. And at the end of that season, the Merseysiders played in their third Champions League final in five years.

It means that in his time as the Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson won the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup, the Premier League, the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup, in chronological order. He certainly played an important role on the pitch in each of those moments of success.

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The decline and the coming of the end

The 2022/23 season was hugely underwhelming. Liverpool failed to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2017. Sadio Mane had gone to Bayern Munich, and the rest of the team dropped their performance levels to unrecognizible depths. Henderson, it should be said, was one of those whose fall was felt most keenly.

It was painfully clear to anyone connected to the club in any way that a large-scale rebuild of the midfield section was needed. James Milner, Henderson’s long-serving deputy, and the injury-hindered pair of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita, left the club as their contracts expired at the end of June. The arrivals of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai offered hope that things would be going in the right direction, along with reports suggesting another midfielder might be coming soon.

But then came the news of Al-Ettifaq’s interest in Henderson, as well as that of Al-Ittihad in Fabinho.

Leaving Fabinho’s case aside, Henderson was obviously aware that at the age of 33, with new high-quality players to compete against, frequently hampered by injuries himself, probably wouldn’t have been a guaranteed starter, that the period over which he would be gradually put aside, was about to begin. A lucrative offer to try something new came, from none other than his predecessor as the Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard. He considered his options and decided it was time for him to move on.

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The situation obviously leaves Klopp with further things to ponder. The rebuild now has to be even bigger than originally planned, but as he said himself, it was his decision to allow Henderson (and Fabinho) to leave, out of respect for everything they’ve done together over the last five years.

With Roberto Firmino also gone, Alisson Becker, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Joel Matip, and, of course, Mohamed Salah, still remain from the original stalwarts of the team that climbed those great heights, for the time being. But with no Mane, no Firmino, no Georginio Wijnaldum, and no Fabinho, the end of the era is symbolically punctuated by the departure of the captain.

Liverpool will be fine. Klopp knows how to build a winning team and build another one he will, even if it takes him a season or two to get everything right.

But Jordan Henderson will always be remembered as one of the greatest captains the club has ever had.

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