In July the top-selling names and numbers on the new Liverpool away shirt were revealed. When your captain is only the eighth most popular choice then you know that there is a disconnect between the public face of a club and its supporters. Fewer people wanted captain, leader, scapegoat Henderson’s name emblazoned on their back than that of Divock Origi; that would never have happened in Steven Gerrard’s day.
That Emre Can was much higher up that list was then reflected in the reaction to Liverpool’s defeat against Burnley in August, when ‘highlights’ of Henderson’s performance were shared with teary gusto by Reds fans baffled by his inclusion as a defensive midfielder at the expense of an actual defensive midfielder. The mailbox boiled and bristled with Liverpool fans tentatively questioning Jurgen Klopp’s judgement. Jurgen surely knows but this looks suspiciously like a blind spot.
Less than a month later and Henderson is being voted man of the match by Liverpool fans, bizarrely beating the choice of ‘the whole team’. They say that one footballer is never bigger than his club but on Friday night, fans wanted to credit their captain not just for his truly scrumptious goal but his positioning, pressing and passing over the kind of 90 minutes that can change your mind about a player. Last season they embraced Adam Lallana when he ran so far that he often collapsed with exhaustion. Are they finally ready to embrace their skipper?
If Liverpool fans were of a mind to listen to Gary Neville then they would hear a compelling case for more respect to be afforded to a much-derided midfielder: “What I’ve seen from Jordan Henderson in the past 18 months is an ability to work on his technique. He’s taking set-pieces, corner kicks and shooting from distance. He’s absolutely applied himself on the training pitch to do that.
“When you kick 50 balls after training, five times a week, that’s 250 balls kicked a week. When you multiply that by the amount of years he’s been doing that for, you get pretty good at it and that’s what Jordan Henderson is as a character.
“He’s made himself the player he is today…”
It’s that final line that would have prompted guffaws after the Burnley game and at various points over the last five seasons as Henderson has been the slowest of burners at Liverpool, but the anecdote from Neville gives us an endearing insight into Henderson’s attitude. God loves a trier and so do fans, who will surely be impressed at just how hard Henderson works, presumably because at some level he knows he is not the most talented – perhaps not even the eighth-most talented – footballer at the club.
With Can set to return from injury this week, Henderson’s performance against Chelsea ensures that there will be few dissenting voices when he is named in Liverpool’s line-up against Hull next weekend. There may even be one or two more shirts sold with the number 14.