Just as my, also departing, colleague AJ has Daniel Sturridge as his Liverpool talisman, I have kept no secrets about my own talisman.
Jordan Henderson signed for the club shortly after I became a fan, as I joined the fandom in 2010 and he was picked from Sunderland to move to Merseyside in 2011. That part you probably knew. There’s probably not a lot you don’t know about my feelings for Jordan Henderson.
I’ve been lucky enough to have TLO as my platform to speak at length about how much I love him. Now that that time is coming to an end, that I’m being forced to leave due to a decision I’ve been grappling with for months, I want to give a proper tribute to my favorite ever Liverpool player.
I may not get to write about watching him play, and lead, on the pitch for the Offside anymore, but at least he left me with a parting gift: an interview with the club website about how he’s faring at home during these heady days of isolation. Henderson’s answers in the interview just proved many aspects of why I love him - as a captain, as a player, as a person. He is adamant about how little football matters right now, talking about how special it is to spend time at home with his family, and how lucky he is that he has a nice house with a garden to play in when many others don’t.
“It’s a perfect sort of chance to use our song that we sing every game in terms of You’ll Never Walk Alone – it’s the perfect opportunity for that,” Henderson says in the interview.
“I’ve seen stuff on social media where the nurses were singing along to it, but stuff like that is really powerful.
“This is the time where it’s not just words, you’ve got to use it as best we can as people and as human beings. But just listen to the authorities, do your bit, do what you can and hopefully this will go sooner rather than later and everybody can get back to some sort of normality and look forward to what the future holds.”
That kind of selflessness has been evident ever since he came to the club. We all know the stories about how Brendan Rodgers planned to trade him off, in exchange for cash and Clint Dempsey. How he’s handled the criticism since becoming captain, with such large shoes to fill following the departure of Steven Gerrard. He almost refuses the spotlight - all he wants to do is put his head down and keep working and do whatever it takes to make the team better. That includes playing in a position that the squad needed, out of his own, so long that Jurgen Klopp didn’t even know it wasn’t his position. That includes turns at centerback and rightback, when our defense has been worryingly thin.
Jordan Henderson, likely to become the most prolific captain in the Premier League era (he’s already picked up one, maybe two, medals that eluded the Scouser), is no Steven Gerrard. That has always been evident.
Their playing styles are very different, but their ability to help the teams surrounding them in specific ways is what aligns them together, and makes Henderson stand ahead. Hendo played for years under Gerrard, and improved because of it - even as Steven started to decline. While Steven had the ability to make world shaking goals happen, to drag the team up by the scruffs of their necks through them, Henderson is more mechanical - finding ways to help the players around him shine more. He is the very vital piece in the cog that has become modern Liverpool FC, because of the ways he wins the ball back for the team, passes with a vision as if looking right at the future, opens spaces for players to move through and thrive, and occasionally scores in a way that reminds you of who he is.
The thing is, though, that Henderson doesn’t need the goals. He doesn’t need the celebrations or the praise. He rarely gives interviews far outside of matchdays, and almost always deflects away from his own performances to those of his teammates. His role, as he has stated many times, is to simply do his best for the team. That has carried over in his role as captain, taking younger lads under his wing (his friendship with Trent evidence of that), and being the captain that other leaders in the team like Virgil Van Dijk look up to. His role in the team isn’t about himself, or him making the plays to get the win.
His actions during this unprecedented coronavirus mess are all more evidence of his character. This season will no doubt, eventually, be known as the Coronavirus season. And maybe even seasons to come, as the league struggles to repair what has been cracked because of this extraordinary event. Henderson’s leadership through this time, from leading the team through that incredible unbeaten run to this time of isolation, will go down as legendary. Leading the charge to support the foodbanks of Merseyside, making sure the younger lads away from their families are safe and okay during isolation through WhatsApp. And that’s all without the Premier League title that he’s likely to win, the first captain to do so in 30 years.
He is steadfast and true, likely to play the rest of his career for Liverpool (unless Sunderland get out of the mess they’re in - which isn’t likely any time soon). He has given everything, everything, he has to this club that has made him. Tears, lots of them. Joy and pain. Lots of pain. He has dealt with the criticism of his playing, of his ability, with a grace that any of us can only hope to have. He is not perfect, and he knows it. He is privileged, and lucky, and he knows it.
He’s ours. He’s mine. He’s the best captain of the last twenty years, at least, and maybe better than many of us deserve. I’ll miss writing about him here, even disagreeing with him, and proving just how important he is. Sure, I’m clearly biased, but so are others when they call him “not good enough.” He’ll never be good enough for the people who praise Steven Gerrard for a couple thundering goals over Henderson for his methodical assists.
Because they don’t want to admit that he’s better.
And that’s fine by me. I’ll do it for them.