Joey Barton’s tweet seems like a distant memory now 14 days before the World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Having completed a stellar campaign in club colours for Liverpool, Henderson’s impressive performances have not only been recognized by the fans but also by England boss Roy Hodgson. The former Sunderland man has gone from the furthest periphery of Hodgson’s thinking to becoming arguably a crucial cog in the Former Fulham boss’ Three Lions machine.
Henderson was handed his Three Lions debut back in November 2010, when the energetic midfield man was excluded from England’s U21 squad only to receive his first cap as a full England international on 17 November 2010. Henderson started the game in central midfield alongside Steven Gerrard, with whom he would then play in the red of Liverpool. The former Sunderland man played out the entire friendly against France under then manager Fabio Capello. However that was the only international action Henderson would feature in for the next couple of years.
Having moved to Liverpool from his hometown club Sunderland in June 2011, for a fee believed to be between £16 and £20 million, Henderson endured a disappointing first campaign for Liverpool. Often a victim of his own versatility Henderson was asked to play in an orthodox right-midfield position for most of the campaign. To follow a rather underwhelming season, a much ridiculed call-up to the England squad for Euro 2012 followed. The versatile midfielder stood in for the injured Frank Lampard and, to the surprise of very few, was barely used, making two substitute appearances against France and against Italy in extra-time of the quarter-final penalty shoot-out defeat. After that brief outing against the Italians, Henderson wasn’t to be picked again for the following 17 months.
The appointment of Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool manager in 2012 would spell the end of Henderson’s Liverpool nightmare, as many predicted with Rodgers’ providing him with a way out to Fulham as part of an exchange deal. However the gritty midfielder chose to turn down the move unlike other fellow 2011 summer signings – Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll. That spelt a turn in the fortunes of the marathon man from the North-Eastern parts of the country.
From being a bit-part player in Rodger’s first campaign, Henderson gradually forced his way back into the side.
By the start of the 2013-2014 season, Henderson became a crucial part of the rejuvenated Liverpool side. Autumn saw Henderson in a right wing-back role as Rodgers switched to a 3-5-2 system to accommodate Suarez and Sturridge. Filling in for the injured Steven Gerrard, Henderson was moved into his favoured central midfield role in the 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace in October. He impressed and has never looked back. It’s a role he has gradually made his own and kept getting better at it with every game.
The fact that Henderson would be considered a key man in England’s World Cup campaign would be as amusing as Joey Barton’s tweet for England fans at the start of this season but that’s the improvement Henderson has shown. Hailed as ‘the most improved player in the league’ by his manager Brendan Rodgers, the stats prove exactly why Henderson could be England’s main man this summer.
Still only 23 years old, Henderson ranks among the top performers in the Premier League. Such has been the consistency and influence of his performances over Liverpool’s results this season that the 3 games he missed due to suspension ultimately cost the Reds an elusive 19th domestic title. Known for his relentless work-rate and endeavour, Henderson is far more than just a work-horse. With a pass accuracy rate of 87% completing a staggering 1765 passes this season (8th Best), Henderson is accomplished defensively as well as in supplementing attacks. Creating 62 chances and accounting for 4 goals and 8 assists from midfield, ‘Hendo’ is no slouch when it comes to converting work-rate into results. His pre-existing relationship with club captain Steven Gerrard will go a long way to determine England’s dominance in the middle of the park in the heat of Brazil.
Key Midfield Man
England’s success at the World Cup will lie in the hands of Roy Hodgson and how the England boss can utilize his resources to the best of their ability. Having 5 Liverpool players in the squad and arguably all 5 of them tipped to start for the country, Liverpool’s formation will offer a kind of a framework with which Hodgson can work. A version of the same system was utilized in the friendly against Denmark, with rather limited success. However, whether Hodgson opts for the same plans in Brazil is left to be seen, but it is difficult to see an obvious alternative to Henderson within the England squad.
The presence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley among the 23, has heightened the level of excitement among many fans but question marks remain over the defensive qualities of these young English midfielders. The discipline required to operate from a deeper role alongside skipper Gerrard is something that seems to be lacking in the attacking talents at the disposal of Hodgson.
Considering other alternatives James Milner undoubtedly has the work ethic to play the role but the former Aston Villa man has played much of club his football in wider positions in recent times. Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere and veteran Blue Frank Lampard are more obvious contenders to support Gerrard but while the former seems to be the more likely fit his fitness remains a doubt. Despite all the goal-scoring exploits and accolades collected by Lampard during his illustrious career, the Chelsea midfielder quite simply, lacks the legs for the role.
Jordan Henderson is still far from reaching the stage where he can command respect from his peers but his sheer hard-work, endeavour and work-rate makes him England’s key man this World Cup.