Jordan Henderson did not have the best start to his Liverpool career. He had the misfortune of being brought in during the summer of 2011, a transfer window which also saw Liverpool pay top dollar for the less-than-impressive contributions of Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam, among others. £16m was a lot to pay for a young talent - even one who was captain of the England Under-21s and who was twice voted Sunderland's young player of the year - especially when lumped in with the hefty fees that the new owners had shelled out for Downing, Adam and Carroll.
In his first season with the club, he was played out of his most comfortable position in order to suit the manager's preferred formation. Inexperience combined with nerves early on, and he appeared hopelessly out of depth until he eventually lost his place in the side. However, even the bitterest Liverpool fan, jaded from a year of watching a team led by Luis Suarez somehow still play lugubrious, lead-footed football, could recognize and appreciate the effort Henderson expended each time he took to the pitch. He seemed from the Dirk Kuyt mold of industrious, hard-working team players. While he was not yet living up to his transfer fee, most fans hadn't yet thrown in the towel on young Henderson.
Fans, though, do not run Liverpool Football Club, and neither did Kenny Dalglish after the summer of 2012. When Brendan Rodgers came in, he considered the young Henderson to be surplus to requirements, at least when it came down to acquiring the talents of Clint Dempsey. For many players, that would be it. Frustration and self-doubt would set in when realizing that the new manager didn't see a place for them in the side, and that would spell the end of their time with a club. Instead, Henderson refused to be used as a makeweight (!) as part of a £7m deal (!!) with Fulham for Clint Dempsey (!!!) - a combination of words which still makes me shudder in horror some three years later.
The vice-captain's origin story couldn't be more different than that of our current captain. No one but, apparently, Alex Ferguson has ever questioned Steven Gerrard's considerable talents or place on his team. While Henderson's ascent through the ranks hasn't been a straight upward trajectory, it may be all the more impressive for it. Over the course of Rodgers's tenure, Henderson has proved his tenacity, ability, and importance to the team and their style of play. His performances have also improved in leaps and bounds, thanks to Rodgers's direction, as well as playing alongside fantastic footballers like Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, and Daniel Sturridge.
Last season, the biggest complaint that could be made about Jordan Henderson was his hesitancy in front of goal. He was selfless in a way that, while it led to seven assists, seemed to suggest a lack of confidence in taking the shots himself. He scored five goals in all competitions last season. He's already matched that total this season, with at least eleven games still left to play, and for a side that has scored considerably less goals overall. The last two games saw him score two incredible, long-range belters and notch another assist with a lovely lofted ball right onto the head of Daniel Sturridge. It was a bit of flashy play that was, dare I say, reminiscent of Gerrard in his most swaggering pomp.
When Daniel Agger left the team to go back to Denmark last summer, he vacated his position as vice-captain, leaving fans to speculate on who would be chosen to replace everyone's favorite Dane. There was some call for Skrtel, Lucas, or even Sturridge to get the nod, but the consensus seemed to be that the manager had the most confidence in Jordan Henderson. Once that was confirmed, Henderson had only six months to get used to his new position before Steven Gerrard announced his move to the LA Galaxy. Suddenly, the idea that Henderson would get at least another full season to grow into that leadership role was blown out of the water. By all accounts, the news came as a surprise for him, though likely not as much as it was to the rest of us. This announcement coincided predictably with Gerrard getting injured, and Henderson seeing his first extended spell as captain.
The scrutiny of his performances has increased since the start of the new year when Steven Gerrard made his intentions known. With the armband on, he can no longer quietly and competently go about his business on the pitch. Although the sample size is extremely small, Liverpool has yet lose a game when Henderson has started as captain. His presence isn't as commanding, and he lacks Gerrard's combination of celebrity and good-old-boy camaraderie that so often helped to diffuse tense situations and appease referees.
But what Henderson lacks in gravitas, he makes up for with leading by example and providing the team with consistently excellent performances and a phenomenal amount of effort in every game. Steven Gerrard is a Liverpool legend, but even if he gets fully fit by the weekend, he'll only have a maximum of fourteen games left to play in a Liverpool shirt. Gerrard's time with this club is coming to an end, but with any luck, what we've seen so far of Henderson will only be the beginning.