Henderson has no-one to blame but himself for Euros omission after England, Liverpool talks

Matt Stead
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, Ajax midfielder Jordan Henderson and England manager Gareth Southgate
Jordan Henderson made his bed and can now lie in it

Jordan Henderson is out of the England squad for Euro 2024 and has no-one to blame but himself. Those summer conversations were career-altering.

 

Had conversations with two of the individuals who have helped elevate his career to the highest level gone even slightly differently, Jordan Henderson would likely be anticipating a seventh major international tournament with his country while heading into a bright and exciting new chapter with his club this summer.

As it is, any England future feels like a distant prospect and Ajax will consider non-existent offers for their highest earner after one of the worst seasons in their Eredivisie history.

It was not supposed to be like this. Henderson came to the conclusion he was not “wanted” by Jurgen Klopp because “there were going to be new players coming in my position”. Gareth Southgate explained that a move to Saudi Arabia would not “automatically rule me out” of England contention in a tournament season. Those discussions presented two life-altering crossroads and Henderson twice chose the wrong option.

The harsh, cruel reality is that a bit-part role at Liverpool would have secured him an England place. The six midfielders named in the Euro 2024 preliminary squad have 87 caps to Henderson’s 81 – and 50 of those belong to Declan Rice. His experience, while precisely the sort of thing used as a stick with which to beat him and his continued selection, is sorely lacking in that group.

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Across a 58-game season beset by injuries, Henderson would have played more than often enough to keep him in the international picture. And even if he felt an intermittent seat on the Anfield bench made a departure necessary, it is not hindsight to say Al-Ettifaq was always the wrong solution to a problem that didn’t really exist.

If Ajax were happy to sign Henderson in January, they would have taken him in the summer; most clubs would have. No broader possibilities were examined by Henderson and his representatives beyond receiving a phone call from Steven Gerrard about how great things are over here and he could help be a part of something big.

The point was made at the time when Henderson rubbished the idea of joining “a Brighton or a Brentford” instead during that agonising Athletic interview: this was an avoidable situation entirely of his own creation.

Rarely has an excellent career been so thoroughly and immediately derailed by a player’s own choices. Neither Henderson nor Southgate ever seemed to understand the gravitas of the circumstances they had invited and the doubling down in the face of criticism was lamentable. It was intelligence-insulting nonsense to pretend they couldn’t appreciate why people felt let down or annoyed, to think the storm would simply blow over after an initial outcry, to imagine that actions don’t have consequences.

Even Southgate’s justification for omitting Henderson from the Euros training squad was questionable. The idea that “the determining factor was the injury he picked up in the last camp” is rather undermined by the presence of Luke Shaw, who has not played since February, while Jack Grealish is similarly lacking in match sharpness, having played less often than Henderson since mid-April.

“He’s missed five weeks and hasn’t been able to get to the intensity required since then,” Southgate added of Henderson, having described “the intensity of the league” as a “concern” in September when assessing the 33-year-old’s move to Saudi.

The emergence of viable alternatives feels more relevant. If Kobbie Mainoo and Adam Wharton had not proved their precocious brilliance then Henderson would have been named. The injury – which did not prevent Henderson from starting Ajax’s last three games, in which he provided two assists – was a convenient excuse for something which should have happened a year ago.

Southgate at least deserves some credit for once again discrediting the ‘form over reputation’ argument. Henderson, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling are comfort blankets he has never gone to a World Cup or Euros without, replaced by fresher, hungrier, more exciting and frankly better players. But in the case of Henderson in particular, it shouldn’t have been left to come as a pre-tournament surprise.

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