Charting the Rejuvenation of Liverpool Midfielder Jordan Henderson

Matt LadsonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2014

Liverpool's Jordan Henderson celebrates after scoring against Swansea City during their English Premier League soccer match at Anfield Stadium, Liverpool, England, Sunday Feb. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press

In a little over 18 months, Jordan Henderson has gone from being told he can leave Liverpool, to becoming a key player and starting all 27 of the club's Premier League games this season.

Two goals and a man of the match display in another dramatic encounter at Anfield against Swansea have underlined the Englishman's importance within Brendan Rodgers' team.

But it all could have been so different had he not insisted on staying at Liverpool and proving his worth, rather than accepting a move to Fulham“When the manager told me I could go to Fulham it was a bit of a shock at first,” explained Henderson, as per The Telegraph.

Initially, after turning down the opportunity to join The Cottagers, Henderson found himself on the periphery of Rodgers' plans—used in Europa League matches and with fleeting substitute appearances.

In November 2012, Henderson showed the attitude that has now been key in turning his career around. He told The Telegraph's Chris Bascombe:

I worked really had to come to a club like Liverpool and I didn’t want to leave in a hurry. I want to stay at Liverpool for as long as I can. I want to keep fighting for my place and I told the manager that. I said I wanted to stay and keep fighting because I believe I can get into the team.

I just wanted to focus on playing for Liverpool, work hard and get myself into the team. Some people might have thought they’d rather go and play football but I said I will continue to work hard every day, keep fighting and I believe I have the ability to be in the team.

That Rodgers was prepared to let Henderson leave along with the other high-profile, expensive signings of the Kenny Dalglish era, shows that even the best managers can get it "wrong" when judging a player. Which, by the way, makes it all the more perverse when fans seek to ridicule other fans with the benefit of hindsight by regurgitating old opinions or Twitter messages. It's not impressive or clever; opinions change, people change—Rodgers' opinion has changed, Henderson has changed.


First Season

Henderson arrived from Sunderland as a 20-year-old, for a fee reported by some—including BBC Sport—as £20 million. He didn't decide that exorbitant amount, but he was the one left carrying the burden. Just as all expensive signings are.

To then be played as an orthodox right-sided midfielder by Dalglish—who in doing so also marginalised more senior players Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez—was again not Henderson's fault.

Henderson is clearly not a "winger"; his strengths are certainly not out wide and his crossing isn't great. Yet Dalglish played him there as he sought to bring back 4-4-2 and make Henderson his Stuart Ripley. It was never going to work but Henderson ended the season having made more appearances than any other Liverpool player.

So we had a 20-year-old player, signed for a hugely inflated transfer fee, being played not only out of position but also being overused—presumably due to his impressive fitness levels and his workmanlike attitude. Talk about being dealt a rough hand.

There were some supporters who could see this, while others just wrote Henderson off as a "flop."


Second Season

When Dalglish left and Rodgers was appointed, Henderson was one of the players many anticipated would benefit—after all, he has the technical attributes and Rodgers was known to get the most out of young players.

So it was odd then that Rodgers seemed willing to allow "Hendo" to leave the club—although perhaps his reported wages of £65,000 per week were a factor in the decision at the time.

Henderson's Liverpool career began to take an upward turn around new year, and he enjoyed possibly his best performance for the club at the time in the 2-2 draw at Arsenal—scoring himself and impressing as what Rodgers later deemed a "false winger."

He impressed again in the draw at Manchester City and ended the season by starting all eight of the Reds' games—his and Liverpool's form improving similarly. No coincidence.


This Season

And so, Henderson has continued where he left off at the end of last season and became key to Rodgers' system. His energy levels and tactical knowledge are vital in Liverpool's "engine room"—Henderson is the engine.

After criticism from Alex Ferguson in his book, Henderson put in his best performance for the club against West Brom, and his form since then has continued to improve further—actions speaking louder than words.

When Rodgers moved to a "3-5-2" system earlier in the campaign, Henderson was asked to play the wing-back role, again a victim of his own versatility and positive attitude. It's not his best role but the manager knows he can apply himself there nonetheless. "No problem boss, I'll play anywhere."

Rodgers explained of Henderson's versatility at the time, as per The Metro: "At the end of last season, he played as a false winger from the left, coming inside and got goals.

"He played his first season here wide on the right. He’s played as a wing-back, wide in a midfield four.

"In all the systems, what you get from him is a work-rate and a mentality and Jordan has got quality."

Eventually, Henderson got his chance in a central role in the match at home to Crystal Palace. He took the opportunity to impress and has cemented his place there ever since—especially proving effective in the Christmas fixtures and when alongside Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen at Tottenham.



Henderson is one of the players who has benefited from working with sports psychologist Dr. Steve Peters, as the player explained earlier this year.

Henderson is becoming a leader at the club, barking at others around him, showing desire and urgency when it's needed. He certainly looks like a future captain.

Lest we forget too that Henderson is merely 23 years old still and has plenty of improvement yet to come.

A late call-up for the England squad for Euro 2012, Henderson should certainly be on the plane to Brazil this summer alongside his club and country captain Steven Gerrard—the player he is beginning to remind Kopites of.