End the perennial debates over Liverpool FC’s greatest ever captain. We’re living through the reality. Jordan Henderson is the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be. I don’t think a case can be made otherwise. Not anymore. Not after the past week.
In rallying his teammates to unequivocally speak truth to power on behalf of players and supporters, he was the lone captain of a Big Six club who had the courage to put his head above the parapet. He was the only one to feel the responsibility and act on it.
Responsibility. It’s a massive word when it comes to a Liverpool captain, isn’t it? Our current skipper hasn’t shirked that weight once, on or off the field. No disrespect to any of the greats who’ve worn the armband, but none have risen to the leadership responsibility as well, in as many tough circumstances.
“Our commitment to the football club and its supporters is unconditional,” he and the players wrote on Tuesday afternoon. I’m not sure who was responsible for wording of the refreshingly terse statement – you sense James might have had a hand in it – but that line was understated genius. In mentioning the unconditional commitment to the football club, it made a huge distinction. John Henry and FSG are not the football club. Klopp made the same allusion in Leeds on Monday.
The Club, eh? I’ve done a lot of thinking over the last couple of days about that very notion, perhaps trying to compartmentalise my continued support as the football world piled-in on the ‘seditious six’ and made us all feel the pure shame the owners clearly didn’t.
So what is The Club?. It’s the great players and managers we’ve all enjoyed. It’s the rubbish ones too. It’s the people who work at the place and keep it ticking over. It’s the memories we’ve made, the strangers we’ve embraced as family. To me, it’s my 23 year-association with The Liverpool Way and the unbreakable lifelong bonds I’ve made through it. It’s Jordan fucking Henderson. And for all of those things I’m grateful and still really proud.
Regardless of their private feelings on the matter as it unfolded, Maguire, Fernandinho and Azpilicueta all waited for it to fall apart before commenting publicly. Aubameyang deactivated his Twitter account. Fair enough. He was annoyed the fight against racism wasn’t receiving as much energy, which is a great point in itself and one that needs following-up on. Those clubs had other players who distinguished themselves. Good eggs like De Bruyne, Bellerin and Rashford (obviously), for example.
Harry Kane, though? The Spurs and England captain? When a number of his squad mates had been threatened with never playing for their country again, his response was radio silence. I don’t want to turn this ode to Jordan into a hit piece, but Jesus Christ! The fact he’s still preferred by Southgate is an awful reflection on the England coach.
Speaking of establishment tories, Henderson’s actions came less than a year after a direct response to a government imploring that footballers to ‘do their bit’. We all knew that was a preposterous deflection from its own failings. Footballers like Jordan were already supporting the food banks only necessary because of tory austerity and cruelty.
Still, Henderson mobilised the other captains to provide millions in Covid relief. He’s not just our captain, he’s the captain’s captain. Tell me you saw that happening when the deathly shy and gawky kid from Sunderland showed up on the right wing in 2011? Roy Keane isn’t right about much, but he was right about Jordan. Never write that kid off. It’s one of the greatest privileges of 30-odd years watching the reds, seeing him become what he is today; chest out, chin-up, leading from the front in so many ways.
Adam Lallana might be his best mate (and biggest fan!), but he’s right too: "He's proved on countless occasions that he leads all the captains and the football club.” The captain’s captain made us proud when there was little reason for it flying around the game.
It also speaks volumes that the statement published on Tuesday perforated a takeover of his social media accounts by a cyber bullying charity. While others spoke of ‘boycotts’ (i.e. not publishing pictures of themselves in flash clobber for a couple of days), Henderson was smart and responsible (there’s that word again) enough to know his following could be channelled in a positive manner.
He’s not the only Liverpool captain to face such awful times, of course. Phil Neal in 1985 and Alan Hansen in 1989 both presided over unspeakable tragedies and loss of life. Jockey, of course, handled the ensuing years much better than his predecessor.
Then I think back to ‘Mr Youth Development’ Brendan Rodgers trying to trade him in for Clint Dempsey because he had ‘wee Joe Allen’ instead. Just imagine if he didn’t have the mental fortitude to say “no”. Unthinkable. When another ex-skipper felt he wasn’t getting enough love from the manager, he sought out a club not too far from Fulham, at the height of what was a cultural rivalry as much as a football one. But then we don’t talk about that anymore.
Henderson staying at Liverpool is an incredibly big turning point in the modern history of the club. Without him, I don’t believe the last 3-4 years of success happens. If he isn’t as important as Klopp, he’s a close second. The esteem in which he’s held by his teammates shows that.
Just stepping up to that mantle set by his predecessor – a born and bred Liverpudlian, a better footballer, a bona fide miracle worker between the lines – was a herculean task. Gerrard was a born genius and Henderson didn’t have that going for him either. Not only has Jordan assumed Gerrard’s role, he has now eclipsed him.
I haven’t talked football at all during this piece, because it almost seems secondary. But when it’s all said and done, my abiding memory of Jordan and this entire era, isn’t lifting of the Title or the European Cup, which we’ll now continue to compete for. Thanks, in part, to his efforts.
It’ll be Alisson sprinting past his exhausted captain in the 95th minute to celebrate with Mo at the Kop end. He’d given everything that day, just like always, and continues to do so, seeking none of the acclaim for himself. Well, here’s some acclaim: Here’s to you, Jordan Henderson. Liverpool Football Club’s greatest ever captain.