Johnny chooses someone or something in football that deserves celebrating for what they’ve done this week…
Who’s This Week’s Hero, Johnny?
This week’s hero is the captain of Liverpool who led his team to Champions League glory last Saturday. A strapping six foot of proper working-class hero from Sunderland, with the most indelibly Sunderland of accents, he is a decidedly unglamorous player who for many years has faced the slings and arrows of criticism. He played over 70 games for the Mackems, went on loan to Coventry and was transferred to Merseyside for £16-20million in 2011. Within a year, Brendan Rodgers wanted to sell him to Fulham but Jordan resisted and wanted to prove himself.
It took Jurgen Klopp to finally see his best position was in a more advanced role and actually apologised to him for not understanding it sooner: “It was my fault that for one-and-a-half years he played as a number six… Sorry for that!”
Now into his eighth year at Anfield and with over 230 games under his belt, he’s finally getting the recognition and love he deserves. That’ll be Jordan Henderson, then.
What Have They Done To Deserve This Then?
A captain of his club, he only went and lifted the Champions League trophy on Saturday after Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Spurs.
And in doing so, he has reached a summit that many thought was well out of his reach. His is a story of serious dedication and graft, of refusing to give in and of growing and learning. Critics in football can be so mean, so horrible, so nasty, too often treating players as if they are not humans but pinatas to beat their own frustrations of life out upon. And Jordan has unfairly suffered those sorts of blows more often than many.
He isn’t a glamour boy, hungry for the limelight. He’s all about club, all about team.
His international career stretches back to his first cap v France in November 2010. His tally stands at 51 caps so far and has been captain in six of them. He’s become an indispensable part of the England outfit and they looked better against the Netherlands as soon as he entered the fray.
Being a working-class hero is a fine thing to be and Hendo, as we must call him, is exactly that. In world of flashy, overpriced ego-fuelled poseurs and wannabes, he is the Real Deal. A footballer for the ages that any generation of fan worth their salt would be able to appreciate. He is the millstone that grinds the corn and as such absolutely crucial to the functioning of the whole operation.
Also, in this insane world of the Premier League, he seems – and one hesitates to say this because it sounds patronising but it is not meant as such – normal. Relatable. A regular lad who has squeezed absolutely every last drop of talent out of himself. Who has used graft, sweat and dedication to overcome perhaps more talented but less dedicated players. An irresistible force that gives everything to the cause.
Maybe he has been the victim of the old-school ‘box-to-box’ tag that so many English grafters have had over the years. When, as it turned out, he can be far more creative, far more proactive when pushed forward and not being required to be a mere defensive operator.
Liverpool’s heroic ability to overcome overwhelming odds this season has been in no small measure down to his captaincy and his ability to galvanise his team-mates and drive them ever on. And yet he wears the burden lightly and with good grace.
Anyone Grumpy About It?
You’d have to be a proper curmudgeon to not ‘get’ what Hendo is all about. You’d have to be wilfully denying yourself the uplift of empathy for one of the good guys.
Sir Alex Ferguson was critical of his body shape when running and over the years his critics have been legion. But then many saw only what their television showed them. Seen live, his work-rate and effectiveness off the ball, unseen or not focused upon by the cameras, is very much in evidence. Seeing how a player works as a piece in the team jigsaw requires an holistic view of the team not always evident on screen and certainly not in a few minutes of highlights on a Saturday night.
In a media culture that celebrates individuality above the collective, perhaps that’s why he’s suffered so many barbs over the years. But then some will never appreciate that without the well-oiled cogs, there is no functioning machine.
What Was The Media Response?
There was a lot of press coverage of his emotional embrace of his father at the end of the game, perhaps more coverage for that than for his play on the pitch, which says something about where some media priorities lie.
I mean, it was a moment of high emotion for the lad given all of the circumstances and more than understandable. While it was very touching, I had to look away as it felt intrusive. Being emotional with your dad doesn’t feel like something for the public gaze to dwell on, despite it being a lovely moment.
Perhaps it is a generational thing to wish the cameras would be turned from such a moment out of decency, rather than give it maximum attention. It is a hopeless wish today though, I suppose, but it is why I haven’t put in a link to that clip and have instead used this brilliant, though not safe for work, Athletico Mince piece of surrealism dedicated to JBH instead.
What The People Say
Wow, so many lovely comments came flooding in. Really warm, really appreciative. Perhaps his popularity with fans and others is not hard to understand. While giving someone the ‘everyman’ tag is a bit of a cliche, Jordan deserves it for simply being the accessible, down-to-earth type of person he so clearly is. While he is an elite player at an elite club, his talent isn’t one that seems so interstellar and alien as to make him otherworldly. Rather, he seems like your brother’s mate, or the lad who comes round to mend your washing machine. There is something of the noble old-fashioned industrial class about him. Not born into privilege, but equally not born into the dysfunctional underclass. Just…well…normal.
We start with a haiku.
Loyal and willing
Like a Beagle with a ball
I’d be interested to know what the view on him is overseas. Prevailing view here seems to be a man out of time, that if he’d been around 20 years earlier when it was wall-to-wall 4-4-2 he’d have been a superstar. But considering last 12 months he must be doing something right.
I was so happy to see Hendo lift the Champions League trophy for us. The hard work he puts in for the team and club, having lived in Gerrard’s shadow. No one deserves it more than him. Seeing that hug with him and his dad bought a tear to the eye. My captain!
One of very examples in modern elite level football where the man is worth more than the footballer. People forget the pressure of taking the armband AND (roughly) the same position as Steven Gerrard. Was as delighted for him alone as the team in Madrid.
— Michael Byrne (@rochdalescouser) June 6, 2019
Showed in the WC that he might be able to more than he does for Liverpool. Divides opinion because he’s often anonymous. But lots of very good managers like him and his “intangibles” are obviously up with the best. Always comes across as a decent bloke which is underrated.
The respect and admiration he receives from his managers, teammates and opponents is telling. Undervalued by opposing fans and at times his own. Never forgetting his roots. Battling for so long and when his moment came asking to & having to be forced not to share the trophy lift.
He’s come a long way from the days when I mentioned to a Liverpool fan that Henderson had just hit the bar in a game and he replied without looking up “which pub?”
— Martin Wickham (@Martin_Wickham) June 6, 2019
Always the bridesmaid and now the most blushing of brides. Two near misses in the league, a losing finalist in the CL, Europa League, FA Cup, League Cup and a World Cup Semi Finalist – Undertook his role on and off the pitch with the utmost dignity, humility and class.
Clearly not the most talented but he’s your classic Alan Hansen Intangible Nouns player (Energy! Desire! Passion! Drive!). His teammates and manager clearly love him and for his obvious flaws (pace, nous, can’t shoot) he’s just so bloody loveable.
One of those players who the fans in the stadium appreciate far more than those watching on TV. Better than he seems technically and by all accounts one of the nicest people knocking around. Love that he shows up now and then in the Sunderland crowd – he gets it.
Fighting through his father’s health, his manager’s trust, a legendary rival manager’s public criticism, being sold to Fulham, and proving himself to a perpetually polarised fanbase to Liverpool,England and Champions League Winning Captain. At the end of the storm and all that..
As a JBH ultra I love watching his reaction to other players scoring – he is a fan on the pitch. You’ll also get loads of correspondence about him being limited in comparison to Gerrard (who isn’t?) but don’t underestimate his technical qualities. A scorer of some great goals.
— Mike Pearson (@MikePearson3) June 6, 2019
Hendo, at most a supremely average talent but that hasn’t stopped him from being the best leader this crop of Liverpool stars need and I dare say he’s the greatest captain of any PL team right now.
Him missing in the last few games of 13/14 still feels like a loss. He was critical to Rodgers blitzkrieg attack.
Since he joined he’s shown nothing but heart and desire – but most importantly he’s got better and better technically. That hug with his dad choked me up along with thousands of others. It said everything about him as a person. I’m proud that he’s our captain.
According to @MelissaReddy_ he wanted klopp and Milner to lift the cup with him on Saturday. Both declined. Unbelievable gesture.
— Conor Clancy (@cclancy2) June 6, 2019
Biggest issues he faced was replacing the irreplaceable Gerrard as the metronome & heart of the team – which no one single player could do. A very under-rated player who does the hard yards enabling others to play.
Since the day I met my husband (Sunderland fan), he’s referred to him as the Farringdon Messi. Loves him and has spent many an evening with England fans stoically defending him for the last 7 years as they argued “what does he do” and waxed lyrical about the likes of Jack Wilshere.
I have not felt more happy for a player to lift a trophy than Hendo absolutely happy to do as his manager wants for the sake of the team then around the Southampton turnaround got Klopp to get the best out of him, criticised to hell but the guy is a leader, love him. Tears.
Most of the negative opinions of him come from guys that don’t watch him play or FIFA merchants that that look at his card. There’s nothing sexy about his game, but having players like him allow the likes of Salah, Firmino and Mané to do the fun stuff.
— Damien (@damofa) June 6, 2019
To us South-Northerners (Sheffield), he’s the most Geordie non-Geordie we’ve ever heard.
I once had a letter published in the mailbox that likened him to a dog waking itself up by farting. Never been happier to eat my own words!
My England drinking games used to be the commentator saying “and Henderson nearly picks out [striker]” or “and the pass from Henderson just goes past [player]” whenever JH proved he can’t pass long as well as Gerard. The 2019 model, all running and short passes is a vast upgrade.
The best thing I can say about Henderson is that I know nothing about him. I’ve been a pool fan for 30 odd years and all I know about Henderson is that he turns up does his job to best best of his abilities and goes home. Refreshing in the premier league circus.
— John lambert (@Johnlam45239959) June 7, 2019
Has everything you’d like in a footballer on the pitch – technique, temperament and game management. Has everything you’d like in a footballer off the pitch too – humility, eloquence and common decency. An all round class act. Bloody proud that he’s captain of my club.
He’s harmed by his adaptability. He often ends up being stuck in a role that doesn’t really suit him to ‘do a job,’ because you know he won’t let you down. If he were a worse player and had to stick to one role where he could specialize, ironically he’d probably be better rated
A very good player who was doing the hard yards for the team in the sitting role. Once someone else could do that (fabinho) he was able to more further forward and all of a sudden people thought he was a better player. He did what was needed for the team. Good lad.
Quite simply a great player and an even greater person! A young man with old principles.
— Jonathan Kinsella (@JPK1977) June 6, 2019
Usually underrated as a footballer, but hopefully never underrated as a human being. The love shown for him by his teammates and manager after the CL Final speaks volumes. He deserves every bit of vindication for all the stick he has gotten over the years, even from his own fans.
Liverpool are no strangers to having a player cast in the role of lightning conductor, whose misfortune is to attract the invective of myopic fans unable to appreciate a craftsman at work, building a platform on which his more flamboyant teammates may perform.
He proves that nice guys dont finish last.
He proves that you can be a humble Champions League winning captain.
He proves a great midfielder doesn’t have to be a goalscorer.
He proves that an unremarkable 21yr-old can develop into one of the best given the right environment.
— Aaronaldo (@Aaronaldo3883) June 6, 2019
Seems like it took a lot of people until the last few weeks of the season that he’s actually the Liverpool captain. His game went up a level since he plays back in the advanced role again though. As Bredon once said: A beautiful human being. Players also spoke out a lot for him
To think we once tried to flog him to Fulham to bring in Clint Dempsey. His determination to be a success and prove people wrong is an absolute credit to him. Still an unsung hero and by all accounts does a hell of a lot behind the scenes that people don’t realise.
He’s underrated as a player, but probably even more so as a captain and a man. Nobody who has ever played with or managed him has ever had a bad thing to say, they only speak highly of him. He’s a fine role model who has showed exactly what can be possible in a career. Top man.
An inspiration. The kind of player that a club’s own fans cherish in a way others will never understand
I watched the kid come through at Sunderland, getting his debut under Roy Keane on the right wing at home to Blackburn in a cup game, having heard about him being a talent of the academy. Steve Bruce trusted him to play centre midfield and he had an excellent season. One game he marked Fabregas out of the match completely and that was when Cesc was in his pomp. Box to box, calm on the ball, always learning, fantastic attitude, and yet even with his home town club there was a batch of “supporters” who got on his back regularly. He was not well used by England and carried some of the blame for us being poor – a familiar theme – but look at him in the last season! Liverpool fans were loving him last time they came to Sunderland, he ran the midfield and looked the class act he is. I loved seeing him lift that cup on Saturday night. The young lad I saw trying to chat a lass up 10 years ago in a bar in town (but even then not being a prick) had blossomed into an amazing athlete, a top bloke and a real leader. Will always get stick but who cares now?!
What Does The Future Hold?
More trophies, almost certainly. At 28 he is in his prime and, unlike many 28-year-old players, one has the impression that he is still learning and developing his game. He is definitely more effective now than, say, three years ago, though this may be also be partly as a result of being played in a position he thrives in. Either way, he’s clearly got some glory years ahead of him as Liverpool captain. It wouldn’t be hard to see him return to a Sunderland side newly restored to the top flight to captain them in the autumn of his career. It would seem a very decent sort of Hendo thing to do. More power to him.