It's an open secret here at TLO Towers that we are collectively rather fond of Jordan Henderson. Last night over family dinner, raucous siblings Ed and Noel squabbled over who had loved Hendo first. It was most unedifying and resulted in naughty-step stints and a dessert ban for both, but the unseemly contretemps illustrates perfectly the regard in which the young man is held around here.
Derided by so many as one quarter of the regrettably-monikered CHAD, Henderson found himself unfairly damned by association with the lamentable Downing, the ineffective Carroll and the wildly inconsistent Adam. The England man had a further obstacle to any kind of consistency, in the form of his manager's insistence on playing him as a wide-midfielder. He was never less than committed in this role, but similarly, he was never at home in it either. On the rare occasions Kenny Dalglish did use him centrally, the transformation was immediately apparent, with Henderson becoming instantly at ease and infinitely more effective.
It was dispiriting to see how many Reds failed to see the qualities in the ex-Sunderland youngster and it was often uncomfortable to be present in the ground and hear the impatient groans and catty taunts of those who had group-thought him a bad footballer. That viewpoint is lazy and unfounded. Jordan Henderson is, in fact, an excellent footballer and has shown tremendous moral courage to be in a position to challenge for a first team berth as the season begins. In that respect, he is very similar to his midfield amigo, Lucas Leiva; himself a former target of the whingers in the stadium and the keyboard warriors in the ether.
Never one to shirk responsibility or hide during a bad performance, Henderson's resolve and patent ability has seen him captain the England Under 21s through two campaigns and he made his senior debut as far back as November 2010. When Brendan Rodgers took over, the young man no doubt hoped it would be an opportunity for him to play regularly in the position in which he excels for those national teams. Sadly, Rodgers seemed less emamoured of Henderson than his predecessor, and again the young man found himself playing out of position or not at all.
Indeed, when it became clear the the Liverpool boss was willing to allow Henderson to go as a make-weight in a deal for Clint Dempsey, other players would have hurled all their playthings from their pram, pouted and awaited a move they were happy with. Not Jordan Henderson. Despite the clear statement of where he ranked in Rodgers' priorities, the Sunderland native vowed to work harder and eventually featured in forty four matches last campaign, scoring six goals and showing both his manager and those lazy types who had dismissed him, that he is indeed a quality footballer.
Now, as a new season dawns, Henderson is a driven man. The recent arrival of his daughter, Elexa, has added an even doughtier resolve to his armoury and he is determined to take the step towards being an automatic starter for the club he chose to stay and fight for. Those of us lucky enough to have experienced the joy of paternity will know it's attendant joys and exhaustions, but it appears the midfielder is fortunate to have an equally dedicated partner to share the duties with and he has had the luxury of being able to remain focused on his career.
"It was the best day of my life when she was born and I have enjoyed every minute," enthused Henderson. "My girlfriend has been brilliant in terms of feeds and that. So I've still been able to sleep and been fresh for training. Over the past three or four years, since I've been in the Premier League at Sunderland and then my first couple of years here, I feel I've learned a lot. But I feel I am ready now. It's my time to go and show the people what I am about. It's about becoming a man."
Henderson has a heartening amount of self-awareness and is honest enough to admit that he has not made the impression he would have liked at Anfield, without making too many excuses or trying to point out mitigating circumstances. He does acknowledge the "pressure" a young player faces at Anfield but is also glad of the guidance and education he's received from the experienced likes of Steven Gerrard.
"I am used to the pressure now but it takes a little bit of time to settle in to a new club and play with new players," he offered. "Dealing with the pressure was the hardest thing but I think I have coped quite well with it. I never once doubted myself, I'm very confident in my own ability. You see Stevie from a different perspective when you play with him. He has helped me a lot. You learn from the players around you.
"I feel I can still improve, which I did again last season. I still have a long way to go to where I want to be. But I learned a lot from the manager and the players and I have grown up in the last two years. It's a big season for the club and me. There are no excuses now. We went unbeaten for a long time in the second half of last season. If we can start well and get some momentum, we could have a really good season."
For the sake of comparative internal harmony around these parts, we must hope these determined and encouraging words from Jordan Henderson are a precursor to a regular run for him in the Liverpool first team. With Gerrard, Lucas, Luis Alberto and Joe Allen all vying for opportunities in the team's engine room, it will be a tough ask for this most determined of players. However, as with many a young sportsman before him, he may well find the honour and responsibility of parenthood to be the the extra inspiration he has needed to really excel professionally. I'm off to mull this over as I savour those two extra servings of tiramisu which are the happy side-effect of last night's domestic unpleasantness.