Immediately after Jordan Henderson scored the third goal, effectively ending the tie in Liverpool’s favor, the captain of this famed football club spoke for all of us. His celebration was as emotional as they come, with Hendo seemingly unable to control himself, getting as caught up in the moment as the jubilant traveling Kop.
Henderson has been derided, unfairly, since he took over as captain from club legend Steven Gerrard. He took on the impossible task of following up one of the best midfielders ever to play the game, and a local lad at that.
His biggest crime? Not being Stevie G. Hendo isn’t Scouse. He didn’t come up through the academy. He has only one honor to his name so far—a lowly League Cup in 2012. He doesn’t generally fire ‘em in from 30 yards.
And yet, Henderson showed enough on-pitch and off-pitch leadership to earn the armband from Brendan Rodgers and Jurgen Klopp.
Hendo came in under Kenny Dalglish and was almost shipped out to Fulham in favor of Clint fucking Dempsey. He wanted to stay at Liverpool. He wanted to prove himself in Red. By 2013/14, our last title race, he was one of the first names on the team sheet. His late red card in the win over Manchester City, and subsequent absences from suspension, ultimately hurt our chances of winning top honors that campaign. He was vital to that title tilt, and he’s vital to this one. And notably, he’s the only player still playing in the league for Liverpool who experienced the highs (and lows) from that campaign (Simon Mignolet is the only other player, period, who is still with the squad).
The gut-busting late run into the box which led to last night’s third goal was far more reminiscent of the Hendo of old. In the three seasons between 2012/13 and 2014/15, Henderson scored 18 of his 25 goals for Liverpool. In the last three seasons, he’s had exactly one goal in each. In 2016/17 it was the fantastic finish from distance against Chelsea. Last year it sealed a win against Leicester City. And this year sealed a win against Southampton, under the most vital of circumstances.
He doesn’t generally need to be a Stevie G-esque offensively-minded midfield maestro. That’s not the role Klopp has set out for the captain. But sometimes a goal is needed. And last night in just a half an hour of play, Henderson delivered.
It wasn’t just his goal to cap the come-from-behind win. Henderson directly contributed to Liverpool taking the lead, spring the counterattack from a Southampton set play with a perfectly-weighted header into the path of a rampaging and hungry Mohamed Salah. That assist, somewhat shockingly, was also Hendo’s first of the season.
Beyond the goals, his presence in midfield was noticeable from the off. Georginio Wijnaldum, who has been generally excellent for us this season, was quietly having a bad night. Gini is allowed a quiet bad night, whereas Henderson never is.
Southampton had been all over Liverpool to start the second half, just as Tottenham had been in the previous outing. Kloppo wasn’t going to wait for the opponents to score this time, and made a rare and decisive early double change. The Henderson Haters didn’t have enough time to complain on Twitter before seeing how much of an impact “The Brexit Midfield” had on the match.
With Henderson and James Milner on the pitch, the hosts hardly had another sniff the rest of the match. The last half an hour would be played with Liverpool dominating possession, and putting the Southampton defense under pressure. The winning goal was out there for the taking. And we took it.
We don’t know how this season will end. In some seasons our 82 point tally would be enough to be crowned champions. In most seasons, 82 points with 5 to go would be a question of “when” not “if” Liverpool clinch the title. Obviously we have no such luxury this time around.
However, we have Jordan Henderson wearing the armband. We’ve seen first-hand how much he wants to win, and how much he wants to win with this club. Our numerous close-calls in recent years hurt us all. But it must have hurt him more. He no doubt strives to rectify these wrongs, and to use his experience to finally get us over the line.
And come the second weekend in May, he very well might achieve what his predecessor never could: being crowned English Premier League Champions. For all the unfair criticism levelled at him over the years, it would be the biggest—and best!—fuck you of them all. For those of us who have supported Henderson from the beginning, that moment will be just a little bit more special, as well.