Back, not barrack, Henderson and he will blossom at Anfield
Why do so many people seem to hate Jordan Henderson? If you listen to the phone-ins or spend more time than is healthy on Twitter, you’ll have noticed a growing number of Liverpool fans queuing up to put the boot in on their own £16million summer signing. There’s even a Facebook group, inventively titled, “Jordan Henderson is S**T.” It’s not all Liverpool fans, but it is a significant portion of them and they’re not being very fair. Henderson is a more than useful footballer.
In his brief cameo at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, he completed seven out of 10 passes. Seven out of 10. It’s actually rather tempting to use that statistic as a means of quickly describing Henderson to the uninitiated. The 21-year-old really is a 7/10 kind of guy. He’s a cheese and pickle sandwich. He’s a Tom Clancy novel. He’s the second Stone Roses album. He’s good. Not great, but good. If we were to apply the Gary Neville ‘PlayStation Controller’ test, Henderson would be operated by a mature gamer uncomfortable with all those fancy ‘special move’ buttons. And that’s no bad thing.
In all but one of his 12 Premier League appearances this season, Henderson’s pass completion rate has been above 70%. In three games, it has been above 90%. The only aberration was the White Hart Lane massacre (69%) and in that, he was hardly the worst offender. Generally, he gets the ball, he gives the ball and he moves up the field. Get, give, go. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Like another understated Liverpool midfielder, Ray Houghton, Henderson tends to play on the right wing only when his colleagues have the ball. When they are on the back foot, he trots in to form a midfield three. He does his job well and he never complains. But even if Henderson wasn’t giving entirely competent performances, the criticism would be over the top. This is, after all, a young man living in a new city in his first season with one of the most popular clubs on the planet. A little patience might be nice.
The problem, you suspect, is that many of his critics are unaware of the concept of patience, or of Houghton, or of the fact that Liverpool’s success in the 1970s and 80s was built on getting the ball, giving the ball and moving up the field. Today’s game is far more hysterical. In today’s game, if you don’t grab the bull by the horns and flush its head down the toilet like, say, Sergio Aguero at Manchester City, you’re in trouble. Henderson doesn’t grab bulls. He smiles politely and passes the ball around them.
Like his club, he’s in the early stages of what Reds fans will hope is a glorious metamorphosis. In the same way that Kenny Dalglish should never have been expected to convert Roy Hodgson’s misbegotten hoofballers into tiki-taka title contenders inside a year, Henderson should not be expected to wrestle the Ballon D’or from Lionel Messi’s tiny mitts in his debut season. Or indeed, ever. Yes, £16million was probably more than he is worth, but it’s not like he negotiated the fee himself. He shouldn’t be punished for the premium incurred by increasingly stringent ‘homegrown’ player restrictions.
In true Henderson style, let’s make this simple. He is already good. At some point in the future he will be very good and then, as they did with the much-maligned, now much-adored Lucas, those hard-to-please Liverpool fans are going to yank the handbrake and perform a screeching mental U-turn. Perhaps if they got behind their man now, instead of attempting to destroy him, he might get there sooner.
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