Considering how his Liverpool career started, it's been delightful to see Jordan Henderson spend the first two Premier League matches of the season as a right-sided midfielder. There's few similarities between the performances he produced under Kenny Dalglish and the ones he's turned in against Stoke City and Aston Villa, but the simple fact is that in two seasons' time, he's back where he started, only now it's as a key part of Liverpool's successes rather than their failures.
Such a change isn't necessarily unique for a young player after a high-profile move, with the adjustment to new surroundings and systems, greater expectations, people telling them they'll need to adjust to new surroundings and systems and expectations, etc. etc., and Henderson certainly wasn't done any favors by those who brought him aboard. Damien Comolli's full-throttle approach meant the club paid far more than the young midfielder was initially worth, and Dalglish's dogged commitment to playing him--admirable as it might have been for loyalty's sake--only further solidified the negative sentiment toward the player.
There were glimpses of promise, though, and after another round in the firing line when Roy Hodgson selected him for the senior England squad at Euro 2012, Jordan Henderson worked. Considered more valuable as a makeweight in the failed Clint Dempsey deal than as a squad member under new manager Brendan Rodgers, he worked. Struggling badly for confidence in his duties in domestic cup and Europa League competition, he worked. And, when Joe Allen's form dipped because of injury and overuse through the winter, Jordan Henderson's work paid off, and he hasn't looked back--or stopped working--since.
Utilized best as an energy man in central midfield that's smart in possession and a willing runner, his workrate, pressuring, and eye for the pass have come on in leaps and bounds while also proving an effective deputy for a wide midfield slot that's yet to be permanently filled. His contributions from the flank are far different from his days under Dalglish, when indecision and fruitless runs to the byline left us frustrated, as he's now tasked with driving play inward with sharp passing and smart running throughout the forward areas. The shuttling around doesn't appear to have an end in sight, as his impressive cameo against Notts County on Tuesday night indicated, but he's mostly done all that's asked of him as part of a squad that is worryingly thin.
There are, of course, plenty of valid critiques and criticisms of Jordan Henderson--these are matters of substance and reality rather than circumstance and narrative. The reality is that he's prone to freezing up in the final third, that he's occasionally too cute in the one-touch game, that he's still non-committal in the tackle at times, and that he's not exactly a perfect fit for any one role in Liverpool's current squad. These will probably continue to be issues for him as he matures, and his trajectory is not one that will likely see him as one of England's most talented or popular footballers.
But the coming of age isn't really about perfecting those issues or becoming the next English superstar; rather, it's been about shedding the narrative created by the fact that he arrived during one of the most disappointing transfer windows in the club's recent history. Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam accompanied him in the summer of 2011 on the heels of Andy Carroll's arrival in January, and now only Henderson remains, burdened with living up to a price tag that the Liverpool careers of the other three combined weren't worth.
It seems a load he's capable of carrying though, even if he shouldn't really have to, which Chuck outlined the other day:
A big money move at a young age couldn't break him. Fans couldn't do it. Shifting positions couldn't do it. Being out of favour couldn't do it. Being needed but ignored couldn't do it. Low confidence couldn't do it either.
Jordan Henderson might feel differently, but there's not really a point in trying to prove anyone wrong anymore. Those content to rely on narrative aren't really worth the time, and so long as he finds a way to continue his form since the turn of the calendar year, the outdated criticism will matter little. Not for a player who's worked his way from transfer bait to the fringes of the vice-captaincy conversation within a year.