From the moment that Liverpool agreed to part with 20 million in 2011 for the young and raw talent that was Jordan Henderson he had his doubters. Nearly eight years on those doubters still remain. I can't remember a player in recent history for the club that has divided opinion so much.
Since he signed for us he has had many obstacles put in his way to stop him being widely accepted as a brilliant footballer. Initially the price tag was huge for a player of his age and ability, but the promise was there. He came in to a squad in transition. After Benitez and some of our superstars left and then the dark era of Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish came in to steady the ship. Just what the club needed at the time, but when Henderson was signed he was thrown straight in making 37 league appearances and expected to deliver straight away. We got to two cup finals that season but our league performances were not good enough and people were already questioning him as a player.
His second season at Liverpool was under new manager Brendan Rodgers where he made 30 league appearances but 14 of these were from the bench. He managed to score 5 goals in this season showcasing his threat going forward when played.
The 2013/14 season was in my opinion his first big season and one with the biggest heartbreak. With the comfort of Gerrard in the number 6 role behind him, Henderson was given the license to go forward and attack at will with the likes of Sterling, Suarez and Sturridge. He played an influential role in our assault on the title that we painfully missed out on, but there is one moment of madness that could be a key reason why we fell short. In the closing stages of the emotionally driven 3-2 win over Man City, Henderson crashed into a challenge with Samir Nasri and was given his marching orders. After the emotions and high of the win subsided I remember thinking to myself that he will be a big miss for the three games that he would be suspended for.
We managed to win the first against Norwich in a thriller but we all know what happened in the games against Chelsea and Crystal Palace. I still can't help but think that these games would have turned out differently with Henderson in the side and this year we would be going for number 20 and not 19. I'm not blaming Henderson for us coming up short, I see it as more of a compliment to how good he was that season. He played every game apart from those 3 and scored 4 goals in total. Still as a young lad he will know that the red card against City had its impact and that is why he is desperate for us to win this year.
Henderson along with the rest of the squad struggled the following season and although we got to two cup semi finals this year the standard was just not good enough. The 2014/15 season was the season when we had to say our farewells to club captain and Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard as he sought ventures new in the US.
This in turn brought Henderson his latest challenge. Don't get me wrong, being given the captaincy at a club like Liverpool would be the ultimate for alot of players, but whoever took over the captaincy from Gerrard would have an almost unachievable target to reach to be accepted as captain. Similar to when Fergie left United. Whoever took that job was on a hiding to nothing.
After a slow start to the season and Rodgers losing his job, Klopp was appointed as manager. Henderson struggled with injuries this season and he was really limited in appearances but remained club captain.
With Klopp coming in we saw a gradual change of position for Henderson. Klopp opted to start playing him in the number 6 role which restricted his box to box energetic performances. But this is how Klopp saw it best. With this change of position came a reduction in the effect Henderson could have on games and therefore people questioning his captaincy. We had been used to him pressing teams and recycling the ball quickly, but this all had to change. Henderson again struggled with injuries but when he was fit he was first choice for that number 6 role.
I have always thought that Henderson is massively underated. People only appreciated how good he was when he was missing from the team. Up until recently I thought our midfield play was very slow without him in there. But I was starting to feel that his importance has reduced in the last 3-4 months, probably because of the impact of Fabinho. I have no issue with Henderson and think he is a very important player for us, but in signing Fabinho we were bringing in a player who was a specialist in the number 6 role. Once he settled in and learnt Klopps ways he has been immense. So with Fabinho filling the defensive midfield position people were rightly questioning Henderson and his importance to the team. He would still get gametime as Klopp rotates and rests but would he be the first name on the teamsheet? The answer to that is no, and that is strange baring in mind that he is the captain. How many other club captains are on the bench as much as Henderson?
Add to that the other players in the squad who will act like captains even when they aren't and that adds more pressure. The likes of James Milner and Virgil Van Dijk may not be wearing the armband for most games but that doesn't stop them acting like captains out on the pitch. In fact we have a whole bunch of captains out there!
The performances and manner shown by Van Dijk in particular has led to many calling for him to be made captain, and going forward I wouldn't be surprised if that does happen, but right here right now Jordan Henderson is our captain as we plan an assault on the league and the Champions League. He's got the support and respect of the manager and the squad and right now, but the question marks still remain from the fans.
But in our last two games against Southampton and Porto have we seen the Henderson that we need for this intense run in and beyond?
Given the license to go forward by Klopp with the security of Fabinho behind him occupying the number 6 role he has been much more influential. Similar to the Henderson of old, he is instigating the press, keeping the ball moving forward quickly and chipping in. Grabbing an assist and a goal as a substitute against Southampton and playing a sumptuous slide-rule pass to release Trent in the build up to Firmino's goal against Porto are just some of what he has done with this new lease of freedom. Also look at that celebration for his goal against Southampton, something we haven't seen from him in a while. Pure passion.
Is this the way forward for Henderson? I think so. And let's hope that come May he is finally lifting a shiny trophy above his head as captain our club.