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Oh Captain, My Captain?

Henderson Artwork by Ismael Alabado Rodriguez 

With two games left to play, it’s pretty safe to say that Liverpool FC has had a pretty good season this year- in both Europe and England. A brilliant season, if you consider the net spend, and the (lack of) depth. If all goes well, and Liverpool come away from their final game with just a point, they’d be the only team in the Premier League in the last six years to have made it to the Champions League final and play in the Champions League the next season. Then again, no Premier League team has made it to the final in the last six years, but that’s another story for another day.

And boy, did they do it in style. All-time record for goals scored in a single Champion’s League season, highest ever margin of victory playing away from home, and highest ever assists recorded by a single player. This is Klopp’s Liverpool, and on a good day, it is poetry in motion. The success of the club is, of course, attributed to the manager. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool is a resurgent rejuvenated force, and it’s all due to this emotional German’s passion, belief, and vision. And of course, he hugs his players.

The team deserves all the credits it’s getting. On one wing we have the Egyptian King who, even if by some miracle, goes without scoring the rest of the season, would still be the signing of the season by a long margin. In the centre, we have Roberto Firmino who dazzles the defenders with his smile before taking the ball off them with the ruthlessness of a rampaging Hun. Sadio Mane mesmerises, despite not having as brilliant a season as the previous one. TAA is 100% Scouse, 100% effective at an age when I was getting nutmegged by the 10-year-old neighbour, and Robertson can just never stop running. However, in the middle of all this, in the eye of the storm, one man stands alone. The captain. Jordan Brian Henderson.

Jordan Henderson has what one would call a rocky relationship with his critics, and sometimes, even the fans. But then again, captaining a Liverpool side that Steven Gerrard had left was never going to be an easy task. The criticism he gets varies from passive aggression to all-out abuse. “Injury prone”, “Cannot pass forward”, “Not captain material” are just some of the critical remarks this 27-year-old has taken over the last 3 years after succeeding Gerrard as captain.

Henderson facing off against Costa at Anfield, 2015. Source: standard.co.uk

Time to take a trip down memory lane. Breaking into the Sunderland squad in the 2009-10 season, Henderson went on to win two consecutive Young Player of the Year awards for the club, before signing for Liverpool in 2011. Barely 12 months later, he was told by then manager Brendan Rodgers he could leave the club. A lesser man would have been cowed, but Henderson was a fighter. He chose to stick to the club and fight for his place. 6 years down the line, here he is, ready to captain one of Europe’s biggest clubs in the final of Europe’s biggest competition.

It’s not like the midfielder is particularly a standout with respect to quality. He’s your typical midfielder. He intercepts, receives passes, creates chances, and occasionally scores a contender for goal of the season. But for some reason, Liverpool look better with him, as opposed to without. In the 2016-17 season, Liverpool posted a win ratio of 58 percent with him in the number 6 role, as opposed to the 40 percent without him. The club has averaged 2 points with him on the field, while they could just average 1.6 without him. It might be a mystery to most, but it’s undeniable that he controls the game on a good day. The first leg against Roma proved just that. Henderson might be limited while on the ball, but off it, he’s become a bit of a beast. He’s fast, he’s strong, he’s aggressive, and he just doesn’t stop.

Captain
via Squawka

The stats speak for themselves. While Kante has had another brilliant season, what’s interesting is that Henderson has had a much better season compared to the likes of Matic, Dier, or Fernandinho. With respect to key passes and tackles won, Henderson comes a close second to Kante, who was rightly named on the Team of the Season. What’s surprising though, is that the Liverpool captain is second only to Fernandinho in terms of forward passes. Also, keeping in mind that Manchester City is the only team that plays closest to the style of Liverpool, it’s extremely interesting to note that the stoic Englishman outperforms the Brazilian at most parameters. Of course, the parameters selected don’t define a proper midfielder all by themselves, but it proves that most of the vitriol spewed against him is exaggerated.

Yes, he admittedly didn’t quite step into the role of leader initially. However, he was replacing the man who wrote the historic comeback against the Italian giants in Turkey. He was replacing a legend, loved both on and off the field. If you were to believe that Gerrard was not one of the greatest midfielders the game has seen, you are either deluded or take YNFA too seriously for your own good. Replacing such a personality was always going to be a challenge, and for Jordan Henderson, it was going to be an uphill task. But this was the man who went from almost being transferred to West Ham, to becoming an integral part of the squad.

“A leader of men.”- England manager Southgate Source: Breaking112

And it shows. The man is more vocal and more commanding than he was when he started out. He is the glue in the dressing room and the link between the manager and the team. Both Van Dijk and Chamberlain credit the skipper for helping them settle into the squad with ease. Reprimanding Karius after the 4-2 defeat at Rome after conceding the penalty? Captain material right there. There’s no coincidence Southgate chose him to be captain ahead of other potential candidates, and it’s no coincidence that he has gained praise from the English manager, who called him a leader of men, and it’s just not a matter of chance that both Gerrard and Carragher tip him to be the right man for the job. However, with Naby Keita coming in next season, it’s somewhat unclear as to where Henderson features in Klopp’s plans, but time will tell.

Nevertheless, come May 26th and if the stars are aligned right, and if there is a God who has a soft spot for fans, Liverpool might do it at Kiev. And whether you like it or not, Jordan Henderson could become the first English captain in 5 years to lift the trophy.

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