One of the hardest jobs that any player in any sport, or rather anybody in any field can be asked to do is to fill the shoes of a departing legend or leader. The responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the person next in line to take up that mantle is immense and weighs down the best of men.
This situation is similar to the one that has taken place in Merseyside, England. 2015 marked a very important year in the history of Liverpool as club captain Steven Gerrard, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest players to put on the famous red jersey of Anfield, departed the club after 16 long years of service, which included 11 years of wearing the captain’s armband. Naturally, any player who would’ve been tasked to take over from Gerrard to lead the team week in, week out would have a tough time ahead of him. Alas, the responsibility fell on Jordan Henderson.
A few things one must know about Henderson is that he is not the most talented nor the most gifted player to lead Liverpool. Nor is he a world class midfielder. Henderson will not dribble past you and leave you baffled, he will not make defence splitting balls like his ex-captain used to do week in, week out, and neither will the former Sunderland man leave you in awe with his impressive late runs in the box and his astonishing long rangers.
The current Liverpool captain is not half as talented as the man who led the club before him, and hence it is extremely stupid to expect the same kind of performances from him that we saw from an in prime Gerrard back in the days.
But then again, there are a few other things about Henderson that you must know. The 25-year-old will run throughout the field till his legs give out just so that he can get the ball back. He will cover the entire length of the pitch just to make a tackle that might save his team from dropping points. Henderson will be with the defense when the opposition are counter-attacking, and he will be the one in the heart of opponent’s half when his team is attacking.
The current Liverpool captain has a passing accuracy of 80.1% this season in all competitions, which might not seem the best when compared with the likes of in form Riyad Mahrez or assist king Mesut Ozil, but is certainly better than the likes of his teammates — James Milner has an accuracy of 78.1%, whereas Philippe Coutinho has completed 77.8% of his passes. Only Emre Can betters this stat in Liverpool’s midfield. Perhaps the best way to describe Jordan Henderson is this. He is great as part of a really solid midfield. He is not however, great as the main player in a poor midfield.
Filling the impossibly big shoes of Gerrard was always going to be a heavy task, even for players who are mentally as strong as can be. Mind, Liverpool were not going to miss the 34-year-old Englishman who could no longer rely on his athletic prowess and his hammer of a right foot and rather spent his last season as a mere shadow of his peak self, but they were going to miss the player that they instinctively looked towards when things were not going their way. You can only imagine the pressure that Henderson must’ve felt when he took the captain’s armband from a personality whose name has been etched in the Kop’s mind forever.
The appointment of Henderson only amused rival fans more as they took this as a testament to Liverpool’s ever falling standards. After all, appointing a “headless chicken” to lead the five time European champions was surely worthy of some epic banter.
They are right, in a way. Liverpool is no longer the force it used to be in the 20th century, or even a decade ago under Benitez. There is no one player that fans can point to and say is world class. Although Coutinho, Firmino and an uninjured Sturridge might be labelled world class in the future, as of this moment, there is no brilliantly amazing player (excuse the adjectives) in Liverpool.
Keeping that in mind, the appointment of Henderson made perfect sense. Who else could you trust? Forget the fact that he is one of only four players in the current squad that were not bought by Brendan Rodgers, what were Liverpool’s other options? James Milner, who was just signed and has seemed fairly unimpressive as the captain when he wore the armband? Lucas Leiva, a player whose form and future is as uncertain as the stock market? Martin Skrtel, who has often been criticised by the fans themselves as being largely unreliable (plus another player whose future is uncertain)?
Making someone like Can or Coutinho the captain would be putting too much pressure on two promising yet inconsistent players. Perhaps the best option apart from Henderson was Mamadou Sakho, a player who has the experience of being a captain, but the Frenchman has not yet established himself as a solid defender that can be trusted to deliver more often than not.
Hence, the decision was sound. Apart from being one of the most consistent and reliable players on the team, the England international was one who could take the pressure. Having been underestimated his entire career, Henderson would relish this challenge, and meet it head first.
This season, Henderson has come under heavy criticism for his under-par performances. Although some of it is justified, claims like “Sell the headless chicken, he is no Gerrard” or “Always knew that he wasn’t up to our standards” are stupid. Henderson was one of the most consistent players last season and even in the title challenging season, where his importance was clear.
Not to forget that it was recently found out that Henderson has a chronic heel ache – a condition known as Plantar Fasciitis – a problem that deteriorated last April and has baffled specialists across the world. This injury is for all practical purposes, untreatable at this point and he will have to play through some amount of pain for the rest of his career as things stand. He might get back to his 2013-14 or 2014-15 self in some time, but it is idiotic to think he be sold or benched because he has been a bit off since his return.
Also, what are Liverpool’s standards currently? How long will the fans keep living under the delusion of grandeur that our club is one of the biggest in the world? Honestly, it no longer is. We can no longer attract the very best youngsters or players in the world. Who would Paul Pogba choose between Manchester City and Liverpool? Would Raphael Varane come here if given the chance to?
We have been in transition ever since Benitez left, and we still are. However, Jurgen Klopp brings hope and Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will the club of Liverpool be rebuilt in one season. If we become a club that big teams fear to face again, Henderson will most likely be sold or made a squad player and a new captain shall be appointed, but that is a topic for another day.
Expecting to sign world class players and appointing one of them as the captain in the very next season is living in a world of fantasy. As of this moment, there is no better player to lead the club then the man who gives his all to the team, literally playing through pain so that he can help the club. As things stand, Jordan Henderson is the best captain that Liverpool can have, and the criticism he receives is highly unfair to say the least.