Jack Hallows examines Jordan Henderson’s recent injury problems and asks the question that supporters seem to be avoiding: does our skipper have a long-term future at the club?
He’s one of our best midfielders, probably ranks as our best passer of the ball, is the captain of the club and one of the biggest leadership sources amongst our current squad. So why does it feel like Jordan Henderson is going to struggle to secure a long-term future at Liverpool Football Club?
Winning us over
Now the captain of Liverpool, Henderson has come a long way since his move from Sunderland back in 2011.
Initially billed as a central midfielder who could run a lot but not contribute much more than that, Henderson enjoyed two successful breakthrough campaigns under Brendan Rodgers in 2013/14 and 2014/15 operating primarily as a box to box midfielder.
The Englishman went from strength to strength across those two years, learning heavily from Steven Gerrard along the way. His goalscoring improved, his passing range became far more impressive, he began to exhibit considerably more strength and bite in the tackle and his general positioning and awareness improved tenfold.
The Liverpool skipper would play all but four Premier League fixtures across those two campaigns, finishing with a sublime return of 10 goals and 17 assists from his 72 appearances. It was this consistent output, along with his growing leadership qualities and willingness to lead by example that saw Brendan Rodgers hand him the armband full-time upon Steven Gerrard’s departure to the MLS.
By the time last season started, he’d won over a huge percenta
ge of the fan base – myself included. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was honestly one of his biggest fans. He’d become one of our key men and his contributions to the team both from a work rate and quality point of view were becoming outstanding.
2015/16 however, was an absolute nightmare.
Injured. Injured again. More injuries?
A heel problem struck Hendo down early in the campaign, forcing him to miss a number of fixtures between August and December. By January the skipper seemed free of his worries and started to put together a decent run of appearances across the Premier League and Europa League run-in as he looked to regain form and momentum in his performances.
However, yet another untimely breakdown would see him miss almost the entire final two months of Liverpool’s campaign. By the time the 2015/16 season had drawn to a close Henderson had managed just 26 appearances in all competitions – his lowest at Liverpool by a long shot – and had featured in just under 1300 minutes of Premier League football.
There were murmurs that perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson was right. Perhaps Henderson’s style of running – “Henderson runs from his knees, with a straight back while the modern footballer runs from his hips” – was well and truly going to cause him injury problems?
He’d been almost robotic across his first four seasons at the club, playing in 139 of 152 Premier League games and making 186 total appearances for the Reds. Had this robustness taken its toll on his body?
The beginning of the 2016/17 season was a chance for a real fresh start for the Liverpool skipper and gave him a chance to address and silence all of the above questions.
He found himself reborn in the defensive midfield role, redefining it by operating as a hybrid between a traditional number 6 and a number 8.
Contributing heavily to the Reds success across the first half of the season, Henderson caught the eye with the sharpness of his tackling, awareness and vision of his passing and ability to act as the team’s pendulum in possession and while scoring from his position wasn’t a priority, his goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge served as undoubtedly his main highlight.
The Englishman managed to feature for the entire 90 minutes against each and every one of the Reds first 18 Premier League opponents except Hull, where he was substituted with the result well and truly wrapped up 15 minutes from time.
There were no worries over his fitness at all in fact, until he was forced off with half an hour to go against Manchester City and subsequently missed the following fixture against Sunderland.
He returned to the starting line-up for the match against Manchester United, remaining there for the next four league games but something certainly didn’t seem right. His movement looked slightly forced and restricted while his willingness to really bite into tackles had been replaced by a far more ‘careful’ side.
Once again, disaster struck.
Henderson was sidelined for the Leicester loss with a ‘bruised foot’ and was given a timeframe of 2-3 weeks out. Not so bad right? Wrong. It’s now late April – two whole months later – and there is still no accurate word on whether the skipper will make it back before the end of the season.
If Henderson does indeed have to sit out for the remainder of the campaign until it draws to a close on May 21st, he will end the season having played 27 games. Just one more than he managed last campaign and giving him a total of 53 appearances since August 2015. One less than he managed across a single campaign in 2014/15.
Quality – Check. Fitness?
There is no doubt in my mind that when fit, Jordan Henderson is one of our best footballers and that he’s been one of the most underrated midfield players in the Premier League this season.
His athleticism and passing range from deep have given Liverpool a whole new dimension when hitting teams on the break and he looks to have grown impressively into the captaincy role under Klopp, fully embracing his leadership responsibilities.
To have played as many games as he has for a club like Liverpool – 226 – at the age of 26 is testament to his ability and if he manages to shrug off his injury problems then there is no reason he cannot remain at the club for many years to come and build a strong reputation as captain. However, the question remains: can he do it?
I’ve spoken a lot recently about Liverpool needing to sign players who are robust, manage to keep themselves fit and when they do pick up injuries, manage to just play through them. That also has got to apply to players who are already at the club.
Daniel Sturridge is seen as the archetypal injury-prone footballer but the reality is: he’s only made 6 fewer appearances for Liverpool since August 2015 than Hendo.
It’s not as if Henderson is picking up niggling injuries either. There were fears last season that his heel problem is not something untreatable and that it could hamper him for the rest of his career while his recent tendency to pick up injuries to his feet, ankles and heels is a serious worry for Klopp.
The German cannot afford to have one of his first choice midfielders – especially when that midfielder is also his captain – missing over half the fixtures his side plays every season and disrupting both the momentum and the leadership structure of the squad.
Personally, I love Jordan Henderson as a footballer and really hope he can sort his body out to the point that we see him playing each and every minute of Liverpool’s 2017/18 season.
He’s an experienced leader, a good role model for younger squad members, a versatile player and at times a harshly underrated footballer.
Truth be told though, I’m very much worried about how much of a future he has got here. Jürgen Klopp is not one for sentiment and if the Englishman cannot sort himself out and become a dependable option fitness-wise, then his long-term future could most definitely be in doubt.